Climate Change and Critical Issues in Transportation

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TR News Magazine, a bi-monthly magazine of the Transportation Research Board (TRB), published a report, “Critical Issues in Transportation 2019,” in its November/December 2019 issue that focused on climate change resilience in the transportation sector.

The report’s author is Vicki Arroyo, Executive Director of Georgetown Climate Center and Professor from Practice at Georgetown University Law Center, Washington DC and 2019 Transportation Research Board (TRB).

Arroyo’s report mentions the following:

  • The rapidly changing climate is causing the frequency of extreme climatic events like flooding, droughts, heatwaves, bushfires, and hurricanes. These impact and threaten the transportation systems making it difficult to provide crucial services to the community, individual, and critical systems as described in the Fourth National Climate Assessment.
  • With this emerging threat from climate change, decision-makers and governments need to prepare transportation assets and do this. They would need better information and innovative best practices to tackle these challenges.
  • The report describes resilience building to climate change around the transportation sector. Transportation is vulnerable to climate change but is also the largest source of GHG emissions, and as such, there is an immediate need to reduce emissions from this sector.
  • In the United States, climate change resilience is being integrated into the country’s federal, state, and local systems and decision-making processes.

Discussing FHWA and FTA

The report discusses the activities of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to improve understanding of climate change impacts.

For more than a decade, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has led efforts to understand climate change impacts on surface transportation.

It has funded pilot projects that have allowed the mapping and assessment of climate vulnerabilities across countries, evaluation of adaptation options, including nation-based options to coastal areas, and integration of resilience into the asset management process.

In a report, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has documented current and anticipated climate impacts on public transportation systems and assets for it to adapt to climate change consequences. It has also funded transit agencies’ pilot projects to help them analyze risks and develop adaptation strategies.

State Leadership

The report mentions that the states are leading the way in preparing their transportation systems for climate change by integrating resilience into state legislation, agency policies, and executive orders. It cites the following developments:

  • California passed legislation in 2016 requiring the development of a Climate-Safe Infrastructure Working Group to integrate climate science into state project engineering.
  • In New York, its 2014 Community Risk and Resiliency Act has mainstreamed climate change into state investment decision-making, particularly statewide sea-level rise projections and developing new criteria for evaluating public infrastructure that considers sea-level rise, storm surge, and flood risk mitigation.
  • Washington State Department of Transportation’s (DOT) environmental review process has incorporated guidance for evaluating climate change impacts on transportation projects and developed a guide for integrating resilience into transportation planning since 2009.
  • Other states have also begun assessing climate change’s impact on their transportation systems.  

Local leadership

Municipalities and regional agencies are engaged in adaptation planning, seizing best practices and developing policies to integrate resilience into decision-making.

Some local governments also incorporate risk mitigation and resilience into their project designs and policies related to infrastructure investment decisions, for example. Florida required future conditions maps, considering sea-level rise effects on grown water table for drainage and water-management infrastructure projects.

New York and San Francisco have integrated climate resilience, and projections into their city’s planning and projects. Other communities have also implemented green infrastructure programs to manage rainfall and stormwater-driven flooding.

TRB’s role

As the leading research institution on transportation in the United States, the Transportation Research Board plays a vital role in climate change resilience research. It is focused on resilience and sustainability issues in the transport sector and develops recommendations on research gaps.

Through its research and publication, it has led the development of information about climate change impacts on transportation, best practices for adaptation, and suggestions to improve decisions making to reduce risks, helping decision-makers create assets, systems, and more resilient processes.

The report also cites the international conference and summits on transport resilience to climate change that TRB sponsored.

In describing the future directions of resilience research, the report says there are still more questions than answers on aligning land use, development, and transportation policies and investments with adaptation strategies. TRB plays a crucial role in answering these questions.

CLICK on the button below to read the entire report:


Arroyo, V. (2019). Critical Issues in Transportation 2019: Climate Change Resilience. Georgetown University Law Center. Retrieved from

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