Transportation Adaptation to Global Climate Change

Posted by Content Coordinator on Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009


Background: Climate Change will impact many sectors of the economy, and while required adaptations for some sectors already have been studied in depth, the same cannot be said of transportation infrastructure.

Rising sea levels, greater weather variability, and more extreme weather events like hurricanes, permafrost thawing, and melting Arctic sea ice are just some of the important changes that will impact transportation networks and infrastructure. Coastal areas are particularly vulnerable. A large portion of the nation’s transportation infrastructure is in coastal zones: nearly half of the U.S. population lives within fifty miles of the coast, and many roads, rail lines, and airports were built at or near water’s edge to take advantage of available right-of-way and land. Increasingly intense storm activity and surges, exacerbated by rising sea levels, are putting an ever-increasing range of this coastal infrastructure at risk.

The costs of these climate impacts will most likely run into the billions of dollars. Costs will likely be highly variable — extreme events will incur large capital costs in very short periods of time, while other impacts (such as sea level rise) will require investments spread out over long periods, integrated with capital replacement cycles. In a recent example of response to extreme events, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (DOT) spent an estimated $1 billion on debris removal, highway and bridge repair, and rebuilding the Biloxi and Bay St. Louis bridges in the four years following Hurricane Katrina, and CSX spent $250 million rebuilding thirty miles of destroyed rail line. Longer term, a study by Associated British Insurers estimated that climate change could increase the annual costs of flooding in the United Kingdom almost 15-fold by the 2080s.

At the heart of these policy discussions must be the recognition that strong efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector will not eliminate the need to prepare for the impacts of climate change processes that are already underway, and that proactive GHG reduction strategies and adaptation planning need to be undertaken concurrently. Because transportation infrastructure is built to last decades, and represents substantial national invest ment, it is critical that climate factors be incorporated in transportation siting, investment, and design decisions.

Taking action now to increase the transportation system’s resilience will reduce long-term costs from climate change. The National Transportation Policy Project (NTPP) and the National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP) commissioned this white paper to identify the policy options available to support proactive measures for addressing climate change adaptation in transportation. This white paper is intended to inform Congress and other policy-makers about policy options at the federal level that will ensure a robust transportation system in the face of a changing climate…

Download Full Report (PDF): Transportation Adaptation to Global Climate Change

About Bipartisan Policy Center
“The Bipartisan Policy Center is a non-profit organization that was established in 2007 by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell to provide a forum where tough policy challenges can be addressed in a pragmatic and politically viable manner.  The Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Transportation Policy Project (NTPP) is bringing new voices to the transportation debate and creating a dynamic and enduring framework for the next authorization bill and beyond. With billions of dollars on the line, our diverse group of members believes we need to rethink old assumptions and move beyond the status quo.”

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