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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Climate Change Will Have a Significant Impact on Transportation Infrastructure and Operations; Research, Tools, Action Needed to Pinpoint Vulnerabilities
WASHINGTON -- While every mode of transportation in the U.S. will be affected as the climate changes, potentially the greatest impact on transportation systems will be flooding of roads, railways, transit systems, and airport runways in coastal areas because of rising sea levels and surges brought on by more intense storms, says a new report from the National Research Council. Though the impacts of climate change will vary by region, it is certain they will be widespread and costly in human and economic terms, and will require significant changes in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of transportation systems.
"The time has come for transportation professionals to acknowledge and confront the challenges posed by climate change, and to incorporate the most current scientific knowledge into the planning of transportation systems," said Henry Schwartz Jr., past president and chairman of Sverdrup/Jacobs Civil Inc., and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "It is now possible to project climate changes for large subcontinental regions, such as the
The committee identified five climate changes of particular importance to
In addition to climate changes, there are a number of contributing factors that will likely lead to vulnerabilities in coastal-area transportation systems. Population is projected to grow in coastal areas, which will boost demand for transportation infrastructure and increase the number of people and businesses potentially in harm's way; erosion and loss of wetlands have removed crucial buffer zones that once protected infrastructure; and an estimated 60,000 miles of coastal highways are already exposed to periodic storm flooding.
Infrastructure vulnerabilities will extend beyond coastal areas as the climate continues to change. In the Midwest, for instance, increased intense precipitation could augment the severity of flooding, as occurred in 1993 when farmland, towns, and transportation routes were severely damaged from flooding along 500 miles of the
Not all climate changes will be negative, however. Marine transportation could benefit from more open seas in the
Preparing for projected climate changes will be costly. Transportation decision makers continually make short- and long-term investment decisions that affect how the infrastructure will respond to climate change. Response measures range from rehabilitating and retrofitting infrastructure to making major additions to constructing entirely new infrastructure. The committee noted the need for "a more strategic, risk-based approach to investment decisions that trades off the costs of making the infrastructure more robust against the economic costs of failure." In the future, climate changes in some areas may necessitate permanent alterations. For example, roads, rail lines, and airport runways in low-lying coastal areas may become casualties of sea-level rise, requiring relocations or expensive protective measures, such as sea walls and levees.
The report calls for the federal government to have a strong role in implementing many of its recommendations that require broad-based action or regulation, such as the creation of a clearinghouse for information on transportation and climate change; the establishment of a research program to re-evaluate existing design standards and develop new standards for addressing climate change; creation of an interagency working group on adaptation; changes in federal regulations regarding long-range planning guidelines and infrastructure rehabilitation requirements; and re-evaluation of the National Flood Insurance Program and updating flood insurance rate maps with climate change in mind.
Many of the committee's recommendations need not wait for federal action. Local governments and private infrastructure providers can begin to identify critical infrastructure that is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Professional organizations can single out examples of best practices, and transportation planners and climate scientists can begin collaboration on the development of regional scenarios for likely climate-related changes and the data needed to analyze their impacts. Focusing on the challenges now could help avoid costly transportation investments and disruptions to operations in the future.
This report is a collaborative effort between the Transportation Research Board and the Division on Earth and Life Studies of the National Research Council. The sponsors of this report are the Transportation Research Board, National Cooperative Highway Research Program, U.S. Department of Transportation, Transit Cooperative Research Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A committee roster and two charts follow.
Copies of Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation are available from the Transportation Research Board; tel. 202-334-3213 or on the Internet at http://www.TRB.org. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).
[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Transportation Research Board
Division on Earth and Life Studies
Committee on Potential Impacts of Climate Change and
Sverdrup/Jacobs Civil Inc. (retired)
Alan C. Clark
Metropolitan Planning Organization
Houston-Galveston Area Council
G. Edward Dickey
Affiliate Professor of Economics
George C. Eads
CRA International Inc.
Robert E. Gallamore
The Gallamore Group
Senior Associate Dean of Research and Technology
William J. Gutowski Jr.
Professor of Meteorology
Randell H. Iwasaki
Chief Deputy Director
California Department of Transportation
Klaus H. Jacob
Special Research Scientist
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of
Robert J. Lempert
The RAND Corp.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Luisa M. Paiewonsky
Massachusetts Highway Department
S. George H. Philander 2 (through 12/06)
Professor of Geosciences
Christopher R. Zeppie
Office of Environmental Policy, Programs, and Compliance
The Port Authority of
RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF
Nancy P. Humphrey
Senior Staff Officer and Study Director
Transportation Research Board
Amanda C. Staudt (through 2/07)
Senior Program Officer
Division on Earth and Life Studies