Global climate change will almost certainly result in myriad changes to our environment in coming years. The transportation system is potentially vulnerable to some of these changes, such as sea-level rise, extreme storm events, flooding and temperature extremes. This vulnerability highlights the need to think seriously about whether and how transportation facilities can be adapted to continue functioning effectively under various climate change scenarios.
"Climate change adaptation" is generally defined as:
"Actions by individuals or systems to avoid, withstand, or take advantage of current and projected climate changes and impacts. Adaptation decreases a system's vulnerability, or increases its resilience to impacts."
Recent research suggests that relatively little has occurred across the nation to proactively develop strategies and implement actions to adapt the transportation system to the various predicted impacts of climate change. Further, there is no "one size fits all" approach to adaptation since each region of the country (or state or locality) is likely to experience different levels and types of effects over time. There can be little doubt, however, that climate change will have impacts, both direct and indirect, on our transportation system. Indeed, some effects may already be being felt in some regions. Thus, there is a need to be proactive about maintaining the nation's mobility in a changing environment.
To facilitate progress in addressing this issue, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), with the support of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), convened a peer exchange on current transportation system adaptation practices and strategic needs in Washington D.C. on December 11, 2008. This session included senior officials of state DOTs, FHWA headquarters and division offices and AASHTO, who spent the day discussing existing and potential strategies and approaches for adapting the nation's transportation system to the impacts of climate change. This report summarizes the results of this session, and is one of series of FHWA reports documenting the results of national peer exchanges on integrating climate change considerations into the transportation planning process.
FHWA developed this report to summarize the peer exchange results for the use and benefit of DOTs and their stakeholders across the country. The report summarizes participant presentations and the key issues that emerged during the event. To help support state DOT and other transportation agency efforts to adapt to climate change impacts, this report identifies suggestions from the peer exchange participants for potential elements of guidance, research and policy at the national level.