Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)
While transportation agencies across the nation have been addressing climate change mitigation issues on various levels, the issue of transportation infrastructure adaptation to climate change impacts is relatively new. Adaptation adds an additional layer of complexity to the multi-faceted topic of climate change. The purpose of this peer exchange is to discuss options for approaching transportation system adaptation to likely and possible impacts of global climate change. The objectives for this workshop were to share information and experiences, to build peer networks, and to advise FHWA and AASHTO about the needs and issues of DOTs as they adapt to climate change impacts.
Mr. Plumeau presented a summary of the three climate change peer workshops held earlier in 2008. These workshops included DOT and MPO participants from across the country, representing a diverse range of climate change-related activities. While agencies at various levels are undertaking some actions to attempt to address climate change mitigation, most are anticipating a major federal policy change and therefore are in a "wait and see" mode. There was also a range of opinions about how useful current tools are to measure and plan for climate change. Little was reported during the course of these workshops on state or metropolitan-level efforts to adapt to climate change impacts.
Ms. Shepherd discussed the challenges that transportation agencies face in addressing climate change issues. FHWA is taking a lead on climate change activities by dedicating staff in a new unit focused on tackling climate change from a program perspective. Yet FHWA also realizes the importance of addressing the adaption of existing and proposed facilities to climate change impacts. Ms. Shepherd posed the question: are we in the best position to prepare and react to impacts of weather and climatic events?
FHWA is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to better understand the frequency of severe weather events. FHWA is also working with 15 other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development, on aligning federal policies that affect land use to reduce growth in vehicle miles travelled. While technology and science are crucial to mitigating climate change impacts, transportation agencies have the imposing burden of working to change travel behavior.
FHWA is also working to anticipate and prepare for potential policy changes that may accompany the transition to the Obama Administration. Ms. Shepherd concluded by saying that FHWA looked forward to hearing from today's peer exchange participants and thanked them for attending.
Mr. Gee began by stating that he was pleased to have participants from both planning and infrastructure areas of DOTs participating in the peer exchange. Climate change is not a question of "if" major climate change impacts will occur but a question of "when" and agencies need to begin preparing and planning for these changes. Climate impacts are evident in coastal areas but also in other regions of the country, such as the Midwest where "100 year floods" have been occurring on a much more frequent basis. Standards and specifications need to be dealt with now to improve the resiliency of the nation's infrastructure. Mr. Gee stated that transportation agencies need to start thinking about how to connect with other agencies to create a multi-sector, coordinated regional perspective on climate change issues.
Adaptation of transportation to climate change impacts is a new area of focus at AASHTO. Internationally, more action has been taken to mitigate and adapt to climate change. For example, in England, the Conservative Party is more aggressive than the most progressive of U.S. political proposals on climate change issues. Now the United States is recognizing the severity of climate change as extreme weather events are sweeping the country—thawing permafrost in Alaska, wildfires in California, intense hurricanes in Louisiana and massive flooding in Iowa.
The AASHTO Subcommittee on Design has been working to integrate climate change considerations into guidelines and specifications. It is important on the engineering side to realize that facility planning needs to be designed correctly today for conditions that will change tomorrow.
Mr. Horsley stated that he would like AASHTO to be involved in national policy decisions around climate change issues. Having a strong state transportation agency perspective in national climate change and energy policy will be an important addition to the discussion.
In September 2008, FHWA conducted a survey of state DOTs on climate change adaptation issues. Mr. Cheatham delivered a summary of these survey findings and discussed what FHWA has been doing to help state transportation agencies adapt the transportation system to climate change impacts.
While about half of the states reported that no adaptation activities are taking place, several states reported they have been involved in policy level, strategic planning, research, and implementation activities to adapt to climate change impacts. Examples of policy-level activities include Florida, which is considering several adaptation policy options such as infrastructure changes. Strategic planning examples include California's development of a "Vulnerability Inventory" as part of the State Climate Action Charter and Oregon's asset inventorying activities to support future vulnerability efforts. A few states have been conducting adaptation research, including Rhode Island's use of computer-generated image maps of sea level rise in downtown areas and major roadways. At the implementation level, Louisiana DOTD is mapping critical infrastructure (levees, highways, ports, railroad, and airports) and the Louisiana State University Center for Geoinformatics is inventorying the elevation of evacuation routes. In Texas, the DOT is using low-mix asphalt to reduce asphalt surface temperatures.
FHWA has near-, mid-, and long-term adaptation activities in the areas of outreach/education, research, technical assistance, and reauthorization. Over the next few months, FHWA will conduct and document workshops on adaptation with AASHTO and State DOTs and will meet with other agencies to develop preliminary strategies. In 2009, FHWA activities include the formation of an FHWA adaptation working group, the promotion of proactive state efforts, and development of reauthorization proposals. FHWA will also work with NOAA and others to incorporate climate effects into forecasts, and will develop an interim framework for conducting inventories of transportation assets vulnerable to climate change impacts.
Over the next few years, FHWA will conduct Phase II of the Gulf Coast Study on climate change impacts. FHWA will also work with the EPA and other federal agencies to develop improved tools for measuring and forecasting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation sources. Challenges for FHWA over the next few years will be gathering substantial and diverse stakeholder input for reauthorization proposals, identifying the actions needed to reduce GHG emissions, and reducing VMT in ways that may require fundamental societal behavior changes.