• April 16th, 2020

More intense and more frequent extreme precipitation events are projected in a warming climate. With this risk comes possible detrimental outcomes based on what has happened in the past. Water rises over bridges. Homes, businesses, and roads on steep hills fall away in a landslide. Tornadoes rip through towns. Planes are grounded. Coastal areas are underwater. State departments of transportation must find ways to optimize scarce resources to reinforce and rebuild the infrastructure that supports our economy and quality of life.

It’s become common to hear that “one-in-a-hundred-year events” are occurring in five-, 10-, and 15-year periods. Scientists identify these extreme weather events based on the historical record of weather in a particular region. A “return time” is a commonly used metric of probability; for example, a 100-year return time means that in any given year, there is a 1-in-100 chance of the threshold being reached.

State departments of transportation (DOTs) are taking changing climate and extreme weather into account when making infrastructure decisions, but they are not always using a formal set of tools for cost-benefit analysis to address climate resilience. A TRB National Highway Cooperative Research Program (NCHRP) guidebook was developed to fill the gaps in the routine use of cost-benefit analysis and other decisions-making tools in light of extreme weather.

Eight cases of diverse weather events in the U.S. from 2007-2012 highlighted the broad and evolving nature of keeping up with transportation infrastructure. NCHRP reviewed these examples in depth for lessons learned and effective practices for addressing this specific challenge.

TRB has provided practitioners with research findings of potential impacts of climate change and extreme weather on the U.S. Highway systems for years. The 2014 Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, research showed the need for solid foundation to plan for the impacts of climate change through 2050. The increasing demands for highway reconstruction and rehabilitation happening now provide an opportunity to incorporate climate adaptation strategies.

Professionals in the aviation industry are also keeping a step ahead of preparations for extreme weather events and climate change. TRB’s Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) provides a handbook for airport practitioners to assess the benefits, costs, and financial feasibility of infrastructure projects designed to improve resilience. Case studies of airports in Phoenix, Boston, New Orleans, and Little Rock explore how extreme weather events can affect small and large airports. In summary, evaluating climate resilience at airports may be wisely considered part of the overall risk management processes.

ACRP also offers a manual for planners who are integrating the environmental review and sustainability planning processes at airports. The fields of sustainability planning and environmental review share overlap, providing another opportunity for planning and infrastructure enhancement in transportation.

TRB continues to look to the future to better incorporate extreme event and climate change into transportation planning. An active NCHRP project aims to provide guidelines for response planning, assessment, and rapid restoration of service of bridges in extreme events. An April 22 webinar will look at environmentally sustainable funding and financing at the intersections with federal surface transportation authorization, and realignment of state transportation spending. Going further in preventative measures, an April 30 webinar will explore the role of ecology in sustainable transportation.

This May the TRB Marine Board will explore related issues as it provides evaluations and advice concerning the ability of the nation’s marine and maritime industries to operate safely and efficiently and in an environmentally responsible manner. In August, the Conference on Sustainability and Emerging Transportation Technologies, will address how policy-makers, the private sector, and others can work together to support transportation innovations in ways that promote sustainability and benefit all users of the transportation system.

Further your career in transportation planning for extreme weather events or climate change by attending any of these events in 2020. You can also become a friend of a standing committee focused on the environment, extreme weather and climate change, or related issue. Friends of committees receive updates on and can volunteer to participate in committee activities. Become a friend and get involved in TRB today.

Ewoldsen, Beth. “Transportation Planning to the Extreme for Weather and Climate Change.” Transportation Planning to the Extreme for Weather and Climate Change | Blurbs New | Blurbs | Main, 26 Mar. 2020, www.trb.org/main/blurbs/180432.aspx.