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FHWA/AASHTO Climate Change Adaptation Peer Exchange - December 2009

5 Opening Presentations

5.1 Gloria Shepherd, FHWA

Ms. Shepherd began by thanking the participants for their ongoing work on climate change and adaptation, and emphasized that FHWA Headquarters learns through the experiences of the states on adaptation. FHWA hosted a similar session in 2008 on climate change adaptation, and will probably have one or two workshops in 2010.
Ms. Shepherd stressed that adaptation is a current and pressing issue. Dealing with built facilities in the short run will have longer impacts. Ms. Shepherd noted that Division Administrators are the front line leadership for FHWA, and that many of the participants represent the states where there is a lot going on with regard to adaptation.

5.2 Jim McDonnell and Shannon Eggleston, AASHTO

Mr. McDonnell and Ms. Eggleston echoed Ms. Shepherd in emphasizing that the state DOTs and District Administrators are on the front line and can provide lessons learned and other important information to AASHTO. The information provided in the peer exchange will get the dialogue going on climate change adaptation, and that information can be communicated back to Washington to those who make decisions at the federal level.

Mr. McDonnell and Ms. Eggleston noted that adaptation is vitally important – it is a current issue. AASHTO has primarily focused on climate change mitigation up to this point because of proposals, funding, etc., but will be moving more to focusing on adaptation now and in the future.

5.3 FHWA Adaptation Efforts, Robert Ritter and Mike Culp, FHWA

Robert Ritter and Mike Culp of FHWA began their review of climate change adaptation activities underway at FHWA Headquarters with a description of the definitions of two key terms: mitigation and adaptation.

Mitigation – Actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, mitigating the severity of effects of climate change.

Adaptation – Actions 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.

FHWA's efforts on six related, but independent, adaptation efforts were then discussed.

5.3.1 Climate Change Adaptation Scan

FHWA recently received notification that their proposal for an International Scan on climate change adaptation has been accepted. The purpose of the Climate Change Adaptation Scan is to gather information on how other countries are addressing adaptation of highway infrastructure to the future impacts of climate change. The FHWA and U.S. transportation community lag behind the efforts of some other countries to develop and implement policies, guidance, and practices required to ensure a coherent and sustainable adaptation strategy. The scan is scheduled for fiscal year 2011, with a subsequent report expected the same year.

5.3.2 FHWA Adaptation Working Group

The Adaptation Working Group was formed in fall 2008. Climate change is an interdisciplinary issue, cutting across many programs in FHWA. Many offices are represented in the Adaptation Working Group, including: Environment, Planning, and Realty; Infrastructure (Asset Management, Bridge, Design, and Emergency Response); Operations; and Safety. The primary activity to date has been focused on developing the Adaptation Strategy.

5.3.3 Adaptation Strategy

The purpose of the Adaptation Strategy is to: (1) establish a FHWA policy on adaptation; (2) provide strategic foundation for future activities; and (3) state FHWA objectives in short, medium, and long-term. An internal draft of the Strategy is currently under review.

Strategy Structure

The structure of the Strategy moves from identifying the potential effects of climate change, to determining impacts on highway infrastructure (existing and planned assets), and finally to describing potential adaptation responses (policies we can make). The Strategy identifies FHWA actions and objectives for each program area. Figure 1 provides a graphic representation of the role of mitigation measures and adaptation strategies in addressing climate change impacts on U.S. transportation infrastructure. The activities in the grey box are the focus of the Strategy.

Figure 1 . Addressing Climate Change Impacts on U.S. Transportation Infrastructure

Focus of the strategy: Adaptation strategies reduce impacts by mediating environmental effects and impacts on transportation infrastructure. The result is derived from policy actions leading to A)the implementation of strategies to adapt to climate impacts on infrastructure, and B)mitigation measures that reduce GHG emissions and concentrations, and thus reduce climate change impacts.

Possible Adaptation Responses

The Strategy outlines a number of possible adaptation responses, including: maintain and manage (e.g., continuing maintenance after storms), protect/strengthen (e.g., sea walls and buffers, design changes when rebuilding), relocate and avoid (e.g., moving key facilities, siting new facilities in less vulnerable locations), abandon and disinvest, and enhance redundancy.

Strategy – Examples of Draft FHWA Objectives

The Strategy covers a variety of FHWA program areas, including:

5.3.4 Vulnerability Assessment Framework and Pilots

FHWA is conducting a two-part effort to assist states with vulnerability assessments for climate-related effects. The project's first phase will result in a "Draft Conceptual Model" that will address what should reasonably be assumed by practitioners with regard to climate change impacts, its effects differentiated by geographic area, and data to be used in conducting assessments (including data gaps). The Draft Conceptual Model will include criteria to be considered, recommended categories for existing and planned infrastructure, and methods to assess importance, redundancy and scale. FHWA will then conduct pilot studies in 3-4 states to test the conceptual model for vulnerability assessments and inform development of a more complete model.

5.3.5 NCHRP 20-83(05)

The National Cooperative Highway Research Program has launched a study entitled: "Long-Range Strategic Issues Facing the Transportation Industry: Climate Change and the Highway System: Impacts and Adaptation Approaches".

This is a $1 million project identified by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) executive committee as a priority research area. FHWA is providing technical assistance to the panel and coordination with other FHWA and DOT activities to prevent duplicative effort. The anticipated product will be guidebooks for transportation practitioners and outreach materials.

The objectives of this project are to: synthesize the current state of knowledge regarding effects and impacts for the period 2030-2050; recommend institutional arrangements, tools, approaches; identify future research and activities; and develop guidebooks for planners, asset mangers, etc. (one for each program area).

5.3.6 Gulf Coast Phase II

FHWA, along with the other modal agencies within the U.S. DOT has launched Phase II of the Gulf Coast Study: "Impacts of Climate Change and Variability on Transportation Systems & Infrastructure."

Phase I, completed in 2008, studied how changes in climate over the next 50 to 100 years could affect transportation systems in the U.S. central Gulf Coast region and discussed how to account for potential impacts in transportation planning. Phase 2 will build on the information developed in Phase I to develop more definitive information about impacts at the local level in a particular metropolitan planning organization (MPO) or smaller region and will focus analysis on the key transportation links, for day to day systems operations (passenger and freight) and emergency management (evacuations-before, cleanup-after). The study will develop more precise tools and guides for state DOT and MPO planners to use in deciding how to adapt to potential climate impacts and determine vulnerability for key links for each mode. Phase II will also develop a risk assessment tool to allow decision makers to understand vulnerability to climate change and develop a process to implement transportation facility improvements in a systematic manner.

Phase II will focus on the Gulf Coast region. A key aspect of the study will be identifying what is meant by "critical infrastructure" for the purpose of conducting this analysis. FHWA will develop and test risk management tools for that infrastructure. Phase II is a three-year study, which was just kicked off in fall 2009. Impacts will be modeled out to 30, 50, and 100 years. The decision-making tools will also be associated with those time frames.

5.4 AASHTO Overview, Shannon Eggleston and Jim McDonnell, AASHTO

5.4.1 Adaptation Efforts

AASHTO has a Climate Change Steering Committee, as well as a Climate Change Technical Assistance Program, which is involved with: hosting a national climate change symposium, developing climate change newsletters and alerts, hosting climate change webinars, hosting a climate change website, and providing climate change workshop assistance to states.
AASHTO's Standing Committee on Highways oversees a number of committees that represent adaptation topics. The Committee is looking at the post-NEPA aspect of climate change and has also been working to develop a strategic plan. Ten key strategic areas will be included in plan (one of which is climate change). The plan should be adopted by Spring 2010.

5.5 Climate Effects and Selected Examples of Climate Impacts, Rob Kafalenos, FHWA


Climate change effects – Outcomes of long-term variation in the climate.

Climate change impacts – Consequences that climate change effects may have on infrastructure.

Adaptation– Changes in the way surface transportation infrastructure is planned, designed, constructed, operated, and maintained.

The purpose of the climate effects typology and report effort is to: (1) assemble a credible set of climate change effect projections by region in order to inform transportation decisions; and (2) provide best current estimates. (FHWA recognizes that there will be a "shelf life" for this information as the science continues to evolve). Future updates to the Typology and Report may be handled by another agency (e.g., if there is a National Climate Service or some other integrated multi-agency effort to standardize and distribute climate data).

5.5.1 Climate Change Effects Typology and Report

The Climate Effects Typology provides projected climate effects for each region of the United States. For each climate variable, the Typology provides: the projection, parameters of the study, certainty levels, and the reference (the report is a compilation of data). The sources for the Typology include federal studies [National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), Climate Change Science Program (CCSP)], regional studies [Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NECIA) in the Northeast], and local studies (conducted by universities, cities, interest groups, etc.).

The time horizons for the projections are near term (2010-2040), mid-century (2040-2060), and end of century (2070-2100). Projections that are included for all regions are: the annual and seasonal change in average temperature, seasonal change in average precipitation, and change in global sea levels. Some regions include projections at the city/state level for: extreme heat events (e.g., change in number of days above 90°F), changes in flooding frequencies, changes in precipitation frequencies and intensities, and sea levels for coastal cities.

The GHG emissions scenarios bracket a potential range of future GHG levels, and use the scenarios identified in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) of A2 (business as usual) and B1 (substantially lower). Mean, likely, and very likely ranges are provided for each scenario. The report provides a graphic representation of these results through tables and maps, which focus on change in mean annual and seasonal temperature and change in mean seasonal precipitation by region.

The findings in the Effects Typology and in the report have been vetted with national and regional climate scientists more than once to ensure credibility and to foster compatibility with regional climate information being provided to state DOTs from universities and other sources. For more information on the Climate Effects Typology and Report, please see Mr. Kafalenos' presentation in Appendix A.

Mr. Kafalenos identified some possible climate effects, and asked the Peer Exchange participants to provide possible climate impacts that have been identified as issues for their particular states. This information is presented in Table 1 and served as a basis for further discussion of impacts and adaptation strategies.

Table 1. Climate Effects and Impacts Identified by Participants

Climate Effect State Impact
Sea level rise California
  1. Airports
  1. Erosion of coastline
  2. Impacts on infrastructure
  1. Erosion of coastline
  2. Inundation of islands, roads
  3. Impacts on bridges, wastewater infrastructure
  1. Inundation/flooding of infrastructure
  1. Impacts on ferry terminals and shipping
  2. Slope instability
Precipitation Colorado
  1. Operations, infrastructure, safety issues
  1. Impacts on infrastructure
  1. Stormwater and water quality issues
  1. Increased maintenance costs
  1. Bridge scour issues
Storms Colorado
  1. Operations, infrastructure, safety issues
  2. Displacement of populations
  1. Impacts on infrastructure
District of Columbia
  1. Flooding
  1. Damage to infrastructure
Temperature California
  1. Forest fires and mudslides
  1. Impacts on infrastructure
  1. Freeze/thaw cycles – impacts on resurfacing, emergency contracts
  1. Lower lake levels allowing wave action to impact and erode the land/bedrock at lower levels, which is damaging roads
  2. Lakes are not freezing, more lake effect storms
  3. Freeze/thaw cycles – impacts on maintenance
Updated: 3/27/2014
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