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FHWA/AASHTO Climate Change Adaptation Peer Exchange - December 2009

8 Peer Exchange

The purpose of the peer exchange was: (1) to facilitate a discussion of adaptation strategies, and (2) to understand how FHWA and AASHTO can help states incorporate considerations of climate change impacts and adaptation approaches into standard practice. The exchange focused on identifying:

The peer exchange discussion provided an opportunity for participants to identify what specifically they need from FHWA in terms of both funding and specific resources, and the best methods for communicating information on adaptation.

8.1 Current Responsibilities of States

The peer exchange began with a discussion of the current responsibilities of Division Administrators and state DOTs. The purpose of this exercise was to identify how climate change impacts may or may not affect transportation managers' ability to perform their responsibilities.

Division Administrators identified the following responsibilities:

State DOT chief executive officers (CEOs) and engineers identified the following responsibilities:

Several barriers to incorporating climate change into current responsibilities were identified by the participants. The major barrier is the need to get the public to buy into the issue of climate change. In addition, the participants noted that they have to look for opportunities to integrate adaptation strategies into normal routine processes, yet there is no guidance on how to incorporate climate change into designs or planning.

8.2 Current Stressors and Climate Change Stressors

Transportation officials are cognizant of and designing their planning and project implementation efforts around certain existing stressors, many of which are similar or identical to stressors posed by climate change. In many cases, climate change effects are expected to exacerbate existing stressors. Several examples of these existing stressors likely to be affected by climate change include:

In all of these cases, participants cited that climate change is likely to impact the frequency, duration, and prioritization of stressors in transportation decision making. One unique stressor was identified by participants: displaced populations and the transportation-related impacts that population shifts may have on state transportation efforts.

8.2.1 Activities to Address Stressors

Participants were asked to identify what types of activities could address both current stressors and those that are unique to climate change. These activities included: retrofitting existing infrastructure, relocating structures, identifying climate change indicators that could be monitored among other existing indicators being tracked at the state or MPO level, and monitoring efforts. As an example, participants suggested that monitoring activities may include conducting inventories of bridges and culverts, creating a scour or slope stability program, and conducting regular inspections of structures (such as culverts or bridges).

Many of these types of activities are currently being done by states, but there has not been a connection to the issue of climate change. It is also possible that climate change impacts might move certain of these activities "up" on their respective priority lists. Participants identified several key needs in order to link existing efforts to climate change impacts and nascent adaptation efforts:

8.3 Adaptation Opportunities

The participants discussed a variety of different opportunities for incorporating adaptation into existing programs. Funding opportunities that could be leveraged by states to incorporate adaptation include: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Climate Showcase Grants, Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EEBCG), etc.

Participants also emphasized the need to get state DOTs involved in planning of broader issues that could relate to adaptation: livability and sustainability initiatives, transit-oriented development (TOD), smart growth, climate change action plans, etc. These types of activities require cooperation across agencies at planning level – in the context of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). One suggestion that the participants had for FHWA was to include climate change in scoping manuals as another lens for screening projects.

8.4 Barriers to Adaptation

A major barrier is the lack of funding. In addition to funding, a number of barriers to incorporating climate change adaptation into transportation planning practices were identified by the participants:

8.5 Continuum of What States Can Do

Despite these barriers to adaptation, there are a variety of activities that states can do to begin incorporating climate change effects and impacts into existing efforts, including:

In addition to these activities, states can integrate climate change into livability and sustainability efforts in order to streamline and ensure consistency and to leverage existing relationships.

8.6 Adaptation Needs – What FHWA Can Provide

The participants identified a number of major needs in terms of resources that they would look to FHWA to provide, including: specific guidance; meetings, trainings, and exchanges; data; mapping and modeling; policy, regulation, and incentives; coordination.

8.6.1 Specific Adaptation Guidance

Participants noted that they need a variety of specific guidance documents or materials from FHWA on climate change adaptation, including: program-specific guidance; guidance on the NEPA-climate change relationship; and best practices guidance. In particular, states would like to see practical recommendations on: near-, mid-, and long-term adaptation options; and low-, medium-, and high-cost adaptation options.

In addition, it would be helpful to know when climate change is a relevant criterion for planning, and how climate change scenarios should be applied. Some participants noted that an overarching national framework on climate change adaptation would be very useful, though regional specific nuances should be addressed. In particular, states could use guidance on how, when, and where to retrofit existing facilities.

8.6.2 Meetings/Trainings/Exchanges

Many of the participants identified meetings, trainings, and exchanges as useful for communicating information, and identified this as a need that FHWA could provide. In particular, the states would like to see trainings about how to incorporate climate change in to design and planning (e.g., AASHTO technical practitioners' guides). In addition, peer-to-peer exchanges would be useful in order to share lessons learned, best practices, barriers, etc.

The states would also look to FHWA to provide meetings or trainings for state agencies, the public, and/or decision makers on climate change adaptation. In particular, it would be important to communicate the difference between adaptation and mitigation.

8.6.3 Climate Change Data

A major barrier to adaptation identified by a number of participants was the lack of climate change data, especially regionally-specific projections. The states would look to FHWA to provide or direct them to standardized, credible, region-specific climate change projections for a more uniform basis for analysis. In addition, data analysis protocols would be useful in order to ensure consistency (e.g., relative sea level rise approaches).

8.6.4 Mapping/Modeling

Similar to the issue of the lack of climate change data, states also would like assistance in acquiring mapping and modeling resources. The states would look to FHWA to either provide mapping and modeling resources or direct them to the best sources. In addition, many states would like to see standardized maps on climate effects (e.g., wind, precipitation, temperature) for future years to coincide with the life of a project. This would allow for climate impacts to be incorporated into existing planning and project efforts.

Many participants noted a lack of understanding of climate models in how they are developed and how they should be applied. The states would look to FHWA to provide some understanding of how the climate models are developed (such as a national resource expert to answer questions on climate models).

8.6.5 Policy/Regulation/Incentives

The need for a national-level policy or mandate on climate change adaptation was somewhat contentious among the states. While some states would find a law, requirement, or mandate from FHWA useful, others argued that it would not be useful (and in some cases, detrimental). Beyond regulation, some participants noted that some sort of incentive program could encourage or facilitate adaptation. The new transportation bill could provide some opportunity to incorporate such a program (with adequate funding).

8.6.6 Coordination

Lack of coordination was a major barrier to adaptation identified by a number of participants. The states would like assistance in coordination at all levels – federal, state, and local. Federal coordination needs included some sort of facilitated discussion with regulatory agencies [e.g., ACOE, USFWS, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)] about the implications of adaptation approaches to reduce regulatory barriers (ensuring flexibility). In addition, the states would like to see better articulated priorities for FHWA, EPA, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), etc. on the livability initiative. States would also like to see consistency between federal and state approaches to adaptation, or a flexible approach that would allow states to continue their existing efforts.

At the state level, participants emphasized the need to incorporate climate change into state-level project planning processes (and the permitting phase). The states would look to FHWA to assist in coordinating with other state agencies, and to provide continued support for the comprehensive planning process.

At the local and regional level, states need assistance in coordinating and communicating with individuals and groups (especially "bridge people"), to get them on board and on the same page with respect to climate change and adaptation in particular.

8.6.7 Specific Resources and Tools

A number of other specific resources and tools were identified by the participants that FHWA could provide. In particular, states would like specific vulnerability and risk assessment resources, such as more Gulf Coast study-type research on all transportation infrastructure, and vulnerability assessment tools to help with risk management and technical assistance in that area. In addition, states would like to see examples of adaptation approaches that have been used in other areas. Other specific resources and tools that were identified included:

8.7 Adaptation Funding Needs

As funding was identified as a major barrier to adaptation by many participants, they were asked to list what they would use funding for if they had access to additional funding. The participants identified funding needs for planning, expertise, staff, projects, research, training, and outreach.

For planning, additional funding would most likely be used to cover the difference between the business as usual and the adaptive approach. Additional funding would also be used to facilitate adaptation planning efforts, to develop a state transportation-focused action plan, as well as to develop emergency response plans for highly vulnerable areas.

A number of participants identified major staff shortages, which additional funding could be useful for, especially at the state DOTs as well as the FHWA Division offices. In addition, funding would be useful to develop in-house technical expertise on climate change adaptation.

Additional funding would also be useful for specific projects or research efforts. These projects could include vulnerability assessments, mapping, adaptation projects, regional efforts (similar to the Gulf Coast study), infrastructure inventories, and retrofit projects.

Training, outreach, and education efforts would also benefit from additional funding. As identified by many participants, the lack of understanding or knowledge about climate change and adaptation is a major barrier in many states. Community outreach efforts are also needed.

8.8 Efficient Methods for Providing Adaptation Needs

Participants identified a variety of preferred methods for providing adaptation resources and other materials, including: in-person meetings/workshops, websites, web-based tools, webinars, published materials, and templates.

In-person meetings or workshops (such as peer exchanges) would be useful for sharing lessons learned, adaptation strategies, project experience, etc. This method is one of the most efficient ways to encourage collaboration and is a good outlet for providing a large amount of information at one time. In-person meetings may also be useful for specific individuals or groups (such as "bridge people"). While specifically focused meetings are often most useful, climate change adaptation-focused sessions could also be added on to existing meetings.

While in-person meetings are the preferred method for communication and collaboration, travel restrictions and limited funding often prevent people from attending these types of meetings. Many participants identified webinars as the best alternative option to in-person meetings. However, the participants noted that the marketing of webinars is important in order to ensure participation. Targeted webinars would also be useful if requested by particular states – this would allow the states to market within their own agencies as an event. Both in-person meetings and webinars would benefit from having stakeholders on hand. This would help to provide targeted assistance through a person who could speak to the participants in their own language (e.g., a bridge engineer).

Websites and web-based tools are useful resources in providing information on climate data, mapping, inventories, funding opportunities, tools, and links to important resources. A clearinghouse for this type of information would be used by many different groups. In addition, the participants would like to see some specific peer-to-peer information published, including the climate change contacts for each state, and a PowerPoint presentation template that could be distributed (with slides targeted to different groups).

Updated: 10/31/2014
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