Climate Change Impacts Roads, May Make Traffic Worse Unless We Adapt Them

Climate change will impact roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure in ways you may not have realized, writes Matt Alderton in The Washington Post over the weekend.  Infrastructure is built to withstand certain weather conditions and extremes: “the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has guidelines that say asphalt should be engineered to withstand the hottest week on record during a certain historical period — say, 1970 and 2000.”  But as Alderton notes, what is past is no longer prologue when it comes to climate change. The Ray, an innovative organization uses an 18-mile stretch of Interstate 85 in Georgia to test “new infrastructure solutions that deliver cost savings, performance improvements and climate resilience.”

Why This Matters:  We need to adapt our roads to withstand future conditions, otherwise drivers will experience much worse road conditions and traffic, not to mention the huge expense for taxpayers for repairs due to ineffective design.  That means using different types of materials and ways of stabilizing roadways for storms and flooding, according to engineers and planners. This is exactly the job for a national climate service,  which could help to ensure that we build back better for the climate we are expecting rather than the weather we had.

Build Back Better

The pandemic is providing the U.S. an opportunity to re-design infrastructure and transportation systems from roads to public transit to electric cars.  But in order to truly “build back better,” we have to know what we are building these infrastructure systems to withstand.  The Post story explains, “scientists expect extreme weather events such as heatwaves, snowstorms, hurricanes, and floods to increase in both frequency and intensity — gridlock will only grow. That is, unless governments change the way they plan, design and manage climate-sensitive infrastructure.”  Roads, in particular, are going to suffer due to the coronavirus pandemic, Allie Kelly, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Memorial Highway (also known as The Ray) predicts because there will be less money coming in from state and local gas taxes.

It goes beyond roads and transportation, Alderton points out: “[a]lso vulnerable are railroads, whose tracks can buckle in extreme temperatures; power lines, which can sag and fall during heat waves and topple during windstorms; dams and sewers, which can flood and fail during extreme rains; and bridges, which expand and contract with the temperature in ways that can degrade their structural integrity.” With tight public budgets, governments must make the best predictions possible on what to build for — if they over-prepare for warming or severe weather, it will be a waste of limited public funds.  But if engineers and planners under-prepare for climate change, it could be expensive and cause real safety issues in the future.  And experts have found that the government saves $6 in future disaster costs for every $1 invested in hazard mitigation.

New York City, For Example

Bill DeBlasio created the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency to lead climate adaptation in the U.S.’s largest city, which is quite vulnerable to climate change as they learned from Hurricane Sandy.  Jainey Bavishi, the director of that office told The Post, “We wanted to make sure we weren’t just recovering from Hurricane Sandy, but that we were building a city that’s more resilient to the chronic impacts of climate change that we know we are going to continue facing.”

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