Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration
Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

Summary Report: Peer Workshop on Adaptation to Climate Change Impacts

4.0 Roundtable Discussion

4.1 Alaska DOT&PF

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) is a multi-modal agency with ownership of public roads and bridges as well as 257 rural airports, 28 harbors, and 720 buildings. In 2007, the state established the Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet to focus on adaptation, mitigation and research needs. In addition, the Governor appointed an Adaptation Advisory Group, which includes a Public Infrastructure Technical Working Group.

Documented climate change impacts in Alaska include melting permafrost, increased storm frequency and intensity, coastal erosion due to lack of sea-ice, river erosion, sea level rise, increasing temperatures and loss of the subsistence way of life for native populations. There has been increased erosion on the coast line and along rivers due to higher amounts of precipitation. The infrastructure in many of Alaska's regions is underlain by ice-rich permafrost, an active layer that is permanently frozen. Increasingly, the soil layers are experiencing melting cycles causing severe structural damage to infrastructure. The DOT&PF spends about $10 million per year to mitigate melting permafrost yet this is only a fraction of the need and costs are expected to increase as warming trends continue. Storm frequency is another phenomenon in Alaska that is causing avalanches, floods, erosion, and debris flows which all significantly increase maintenance and operations costs. The loss of shore-fast sea ice is also causing coastal erosion that poses serious threats to infrastructure and is causing entire communities to be displaced.

Alaska is adapting to these extreme impacts with shoreline protection programs, planned evacuation routes, relocation of infrastructure and communities at risk, drainage improvements, and permafrost protection. Mr. Richards said there is a need to increase the collection and density of data including stream flow, precipitation, and hydraulic data and to investigate alternative design, construction, and maintenance techniques to address the changing environment. The Alaska DOT&PF will also need to continue to collaborate with others to address future impacts of climate change.

4.2 Richard Land, California DOT (Caltrans)

California has established precedents for national action on climate change issues, although these have been predominantly efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. There has been a variety of state legislation as well as Caltrans and MPO efforts to work with partners to develop mitigation strategies. The state is in the initial steps of examining the issue of adaptation to the impacts of climate change. In November 2008, the Governor directed state agencies to plan for sea level rise as well as increased temperatures, shifting precipitation, and extreme weather events. The final goal is a statewide strategy to adapt to climate change impacts.

While there is concern over sea level rise, there are large discrepancies between the predictions of how much and how fast the rise will occur. Part of the Governor's November 2008 Executive Order requested that the National Academy of Sciences establish an expert panel to help California assess the state's vulnerability to sea level rise and help state agencies develop different climate change impact scenarios that may affect the state. As part of this effort, by June 2009, Caltrans will create a statewide information strategy to support assessment of infrastructure vulnerability. Caltrans will develop maps showing the transportation system's vulnerability to the different climate change scenarios as part of this effort.

Caltrans currently has a Climate Change Action Program that is examining planning and development strategies for addressing adaptation needs. Some of the strategies being considered are using ITS to adapt to weather impacts, infrastructure design changes, and researching the rate of anticipated impacts. Regional equity and environmental justice are also a major piece of both mitigation and adaptation strategies. Caltrans is working to integrate adaptation strategies into complex transportation programming cycles, which require changes to agency planning and operation procedures.

4.3 Kathleen Neill, Florida DOT

Florida's climate change efforts have focused mainly on mitigation strategies. The state has established an Energy and Climate Change Action Team and there have been regional visioning sessions throughout the state. The DOT is also working with regional councils and MPOs on climate change issues.

Florida is seeking to protect coastal communities, environments, and infrastructure from the potential consequences of climate change. FDOT has already had to deal with many weather-related impacts to infrastructure including scour, storm surges, hurricane damage and design standards. The differences now are (A) the DOT is taking a longer term look at the adaptation issue in partnership with other agencies and (B) responding to extreme weather events is now considered an "adaptation activity."

4.4 David Schwartz, Kansas DOT

Kansas DOT is conducting no specific adaptation activities currently. While there are not the coastal concerns that some states have, Kansas does experience tornados, major floods and severe storms. KDOT responds to extreme weather events by providing communication services to communities when there are large power outages. KDOT has mobile units that respond to various events during storms.

Kansas DOT employs hydraulics experts who monitor severe events. This team is examining whether extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. KDOT is also examining infrastructure adaptations such as polymer stiffeners to allow asphalt to self-adjust on hot days.

4.5 Eric Kalivoda, Louisiana DOTD

While Louisiana has been pursuing climate change adaptation strategies in recent years, the state has not framed these activities in this way. The DOTD has undertaken short-term mitigation strategies such as ride sharing programs. More long-term strategies, such as conversion of fleets to alternative fuels, are also underway. Hurricanes and flooding have been an issue for decades, forcing state agencies to address severe weather impacts on state infrastructure, populations, and the environment.

Potential climate change impacts on Louisiana include coastal erosion, compressed land, blocked tributaries, infrastructure damage due to severe storms and flooding. The DOTD has been armoring roadways to withstand hurricanes and severe storm impacts and measuring the elevation on major highway systems.

There is debate within the state about how many public resources should be dedicated to communities that lie in well-documented high-risk areas. This issue is tied directly to how land use decisions are made in Louisiana. Some in the state believe that continuing to underwrite community development in areas that are likely to experience a disproportionately great share of climate change impacts, such as storm surge, is a questionable way to manage limited public resources. Local governments need to be guided toward better land use planning for climate change adaptation strategies to succeed.

Another issue is balancing the urgency of planning for adaptation with the thoughtfulness of that planning; Mr. Kalivoda commented that adaptation planning needs to be deliberative and decisions should not be rushed. There is also a financial reality for many states to fully adapt infrastructure to the potential impacts of climate change. In Louisiana, the Coastal Restoration Authority is designing a levy system. The ability of this system to protect areas in a severe storm will be a clear indicator of the adequacy of current levy designs and engineering.

4.6 Greg Slater, Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA)

The Maryland SHA has undertaken several climate change mitigation activities and is working to reduce the transportation system's contribution to GHG emissions. The SHA has focused on non-motorized transportation safety and on mitigation policy. The state has also developed policy to preserve land and is considering pay-as-you-go insurance to help reduce VMT. The SHA is also moving its facilities toward carbon neutrality and will soon have a District Transportation Shop that operates on wind power.

Because Maryland straddles the Chesapeake Bay, the state is potentially at risk for significant impacts from climate change; severe storms can cause major damage and the coastline would be significantly affected by sea level rise. Baltimore is on a Bay tributary and is also affected by large storms. Regional (inter-state) planning efforts are needed to adapt bridges and harbors; there have been some reactive measures to adapt but very little planning by metropolitan areas and regions.

Mr. Slater stated that proper maintenance is the key to being able to adapt to climate change impacts. SHA has an asset management focus and is moving toward adjusting engineering standards to enable more expeditious adaptation to changing conditions. Maryland is also considering evacuation routes on low-lying roadways and using GIS tools to help inventory assets.

4.7 Frank Pafko, Minnesota DOT

Minnesota has also focused its efforts on GHG reduction strategies and has adopted the same stringent emission standards as California. Some of the state's efforts include partnerships with energy companies for biomass energy production and using alternative fuels.

While sea level rise is not an issue in Minnesota, heavy precipitation events are. With support from FHWA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a rainfall study has been conducted in the state. Some of the findings from this study indicate that there are microclimates within the state and certain parts of Minnesota experience a disproportionate share of extreme precipitation events than others. The results of the rainfall study will have implications for infrastructure standards and will facilitate adapting to climate change impacts within the state.

4.8 Terry Arellano, North Carolina DOT

Agencies within North Carolina have been collaborating about climate change, with a main focus on mitigation efforts. The NCDOT is currently incorporating climate change issues into agency activity, and it is probable that the planning unit will house the climate change programs.

The coast of North Carolina is sensitive to increased storm intensity and frequency as well as potential sea level rise. The state is currently determining how to plan for sea level rise and how this may affect coastal communities and commerce. There have been evaluations of climate change impacts such as coastal erosion, sea level rise and storm surge on transportation projects on the Outer Banks. One challenge is that there is a debate about how to adapt infrastructure in these coastal areas.

4.9 Dan Stewart, Pennsylvania DOT

Pennsylvania's focus related to climate change has primarily been on mitigation activities and carbon reduction strategies. The state Department of Environmental Protection is convening and managing an inter-agency Climate Change Advisory Committee. PennDOT is deciding which internal unit will house climate change planning. There have also been regional climate change efforts in the Philadelphia region; for example, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (the MPO) undertook a five-year study on GHG reductions and mass transit.

Regarding climate change adaptation, the growing intensity in storms, floods, and ice throughout the state have caused infrastructure damage. For example, storms with freezing rain have required closing of key Interstate highways periodically. These storms have led the state to re-address its strategies and techniques for ensuring mobility in emergency situations.

While PennDOT has undertaken a variety of infrastructure updates/modernization efforts that should enhance the system's long-term resiliency; these have not been conducted specifically in the context of "climate change adaptation." For example, PennDOT has produced updated design manuals for drainage. In addition, PennDOT has an aggressive program underway to access bridge structural deficiencies.

Other climate change impacts in the state are pavement freeze/thaw cycles that cause pavement buckling and rising ocean levels that could cause river flooding along the Delaware Bay coastline. PennDOT is using warm-mix asphalt on about 20% of pavement to improve the ability to adjust to increasing temperatures. PennDOT acknowledges that it needs a statewide inventory of critical infrastructure and is looking to FHWA and AASHTO to provide guidance.

4.10 Dianna Noble, Texas DOT

In Texas, climate change issues tend to be framed in the context of energy or weather impacts. The DOT has managed to address climate change issues and find consensus on priorities despite the fact that politically it cannot be named as such. Ms. Noble stated that it has not mattered that the state does not call it climate change and feels that there has been progress in climate change mitigation and adaptation in the state.

Texas has experienced flooding and extreme heat/cold weather patterns. Engineers within the DOT have responded to these problems. TxDOT developed the Texas state government's first clean air plan. The desire to achieve energy independence has been the primary driver of TxDOT's environmental planning efforts. Because TxDOT's Office of Environmental Affairs handles air quality issues, it is also simultaneously addressing a variety of GHG/climate change issues.

Ms. Noble said that a lack of defined roles for the various public agencies involved in climate change issues is an obstacle to progress. For example, TxDOT believes it is doing its part to help the state adapt to climate change impacts through various means, including energy efficiency improvements, asphalt redesign and hydrology updates. However, how TxDOT's activities fit into a larger state - or national - approach to climate change adaptation remains unclear.

4.11 Ken Walus, Virginia DOT

Virginia has a long coastline encompassing considerable transportation infrastructure vulnerable to rising sea levels. The state has also experienced significant changes in weather patterns. Like most states, Virginia has primarily focused to date on mitigation of GHG emissions. However, VDOT has recently begun to deal with the need to plan for climate change impacts.

While VDOT is redesigning certain transportation facilities to survive and operate in extreme weather events, these activities have not necessarily been undertaken in the specific context of climate change adaptation. For example, VDOT has revised and redesigned hurricane evacuation routes to account for changing patterns of storm surges. Further, VDOT is retrofitting roadways and bridges to mitigate structural vulnerability to extreme weather and, for the most critical bridges, identifying the extent of scour problems. One notable issue in Virginia is the prevalence of major water crossings via movable bridge decks operated by on-site electrical generators; in many cases, these generators would be submerged in a severe storm with extreme rainfall or tidal surge.

Updated: 4/3/2012
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000