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Transportation, Climate Change & Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Webinar Series - June 12, 2013

Session 3:


Available at:


The presenters included: Rob Hyman of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA's) Sustainable Transportation and Climate Change Team, Cris Liban of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), Maureen Kelly of the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), and Karl Peet of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).

Session Overview:

Session 3 of the Webinar Series expands upon the discussion of vulnerability assessments from Sessions 1 and 2 by focusing on the integration of assessment results into decisionmaking processes and programs such as asset management, long-range transportation planning, emergency and risk management, and project prioritization. Such integration efforts are the focus of the third step in FHWA's Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework, which provides the overall basis for this Webinar Series. Session 3 illustrated this stage of the Framework through three examples of transportation agencies' use of vulnerability assessments to develop climate adaption options and inform transportation decisionmaking.

Metro Climate Adaptation Initiatives, Cris Liban

As the agency responsible for planning, building, and operating multi-modal transit facilities for a large and growing service area, Metro is highly concerned about the effects of climate change on transit in Los Angeles County. Cris Liban of Metro discussed the important implications of an increase in periods of extreme heat and heavy precipitation for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, potential climate adaptation activities for the region, and the costs and benefits associated with each of these adaptation options. Metro's motivation for conducting its analysis of climate change impacts and adaptation options is clear; major service disruptions are already occurring due to heat and precipitation and large, on-going infrastructure projects face future threats to their safety and level of performance.

Metro began its analysis of climate adaptation options by using climate information to identify the portions of its transit system that are the most vulnerable. It determined that extreme heat and precipitation events are likely to impact rail operations, bus operations, and new construction projects through several categories of impacts, including: equipment malfunction, railway buckling, flooding of stations and right-of-ways (ROWs), and labor interruptions.

Metro's adaptation options for planning and operations include incorporating weather/climate information into infrastructure monitoring and maintenance, exploring the use of heat-resistant track materials, and improving flood defense through the elevation of pumps and other measures. Metro has already incorporated several of these options into its operations, such as changes to procurement requirements, updated design criteria, and appropriate mitigation measures for new construction projects.

In selecting adaptation options to pursue, Metro considered the estimated costs of adaptive actions and the integration of adaptation into management and planning through sustainability plans, readiness reviews, and agency-wide best practices for maintenance and operations. Metro is also putting together geographic information systems (GIS) maps to focus adaptation options on specific vulnerable areas. Finally, Metro is reaching out to other organizations and jurisdictions in Los Angeles County to understand their climate adaptation solutions and share best practices between agencies. In the future, Metro plans to assess its fixed asset vulnerabilities, develop GIS-based tools, set up a system for asset management prioritization, and study impacts to vulnerable populations.

All-Hazards Planning, Maureen Kelly

Maureen Kelly provided an overview of the Boston Region MPO's use of hazard mapping to inform its project evaluation process by identifying areas that are vulnerable to natural hazards and prioritizing transportation projects that are vying for Federal funding.

This process relies on a GIS-based web application that allows users to visualize the relationship of the region's infrastructure to potential climate hazards such as sea-level rise (SLR), flooding, and storm surges. The natural hazards layer of this application draws on several data sets: flood data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), hurricane storm surge information from the Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) model, and SLR projections created by the State's GIS team. The GIS application also incorporates infrastructure data including the location of proposed transportation projects and of critical infrastructure like hospitals, bridges, evacuation routes, and police stations. The MPO uses this GIS-based tool as a visual aid in its annual review of projects to prioritize in its Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).

Through the use of this application, the MPO has focused Federal funding on projects that maintain mobility during severe weather events, improve redundancy, improve evacuation options, or facilitate emergency response. One recent example of project evaluation in the MPO's metropolitan planning area is the reconstruction of Trapelo Road in Belmont, MA. The MPO flagged this project as a priority for funding because it lies within a 100-year flood zone, provides access to an important local hospital, and could function as a secondary evacuation route from the City of Boston.

An Integrated Approach to Climate Adaptation for Transit Assets in Chicago, Karl Peet

CTA recently took part in a Federal Transit Administration (FTA)-sponsored pilot program that enabled transit agencies to conduct climate adaptation studies that assess the vulnerability of transit assets and services to climate change hazards such as heat waves and flooding. CTA's pilot included a survey of system vulnerabilities, the development of adaptation implementation strategies, and the integration of adaptation principles into standard CTA business practices, such as asset management.

During the first stage of the pilot project, CTA conducted a survey of vulnerability that included analysis of the urban heat island (UHI) effect through initial expert interviews, data collection and analysis, impact ranking, and selection of potential topics.

As part of Task 2 of the pilot project, CTA conducted life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA) and sensitivity analysis in each of three project areas: ROW flooding, rail buckling, and signal failures. For each project area, CTA identified a baseline climate scenario and selected build options to mitigate the effects of more frequent extreme heat and rainfall events. CTA then assessed the Net Present Value (NPV) of each build option to determine the potential return on investment under various scenarios. Regarding ROW flooding, CTA identified a projected baseline condition in which more frequent and severe flooding would lead to frequent service disruptions and equipment failures. To moderate this scenario, CTA developed two build options: the construction of drainage structures at subway portals and the installation of barrier devices around vent shafts. As for rail buckling, CTA decided on a baseline condition of increased UHI effect that would destabilize a curved section of CTA's Orange Line, resulting in regular slow zones and increased potential for total service disruption. The build options identified for this project area included improving existing track structure through granite ballast construction or other measures and replacement of an existing overpass. As for rail signal failures, CTA decided on a baseline condition in which increases in temperature and UHI impacts would increase disruptive air conditioning (A/C) unit and electrical grid failures, and result in slow zones and increased maintenance costs. CTA identified build options including replacing A/C units to reduce maintenance requirements and providing backup power systems for A/C units in case of grid failure.

The third task of CTA's pilot project sought to incorporate climate change adaptation into its standard business practices by expanding its asset management system. CTA considered two approaches for achieving this goal: the impact-focused approach and the asset-focused approach. In the first approach the output of vulnerability surveys provides the basis for recommended changes to asset management parameters. In the second approach, vulnerable assets are flagged according to exposure to climate impacts, sensitivity to impacts, and adaptive capacity to recover from impacts. Both approaches highlight operational impacts of climate change, such as vehicle heating, ventilation, and air conditioning failures, and financial impacts, such as increases in diesel fuel consumption. CTA has been able to forecast operational and financial impacts based on climate projection data.

Updated: 03/27/2014
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