As the climate warms, there will be a variety of impacts on our transportation system, which is a critical element of our entire economic system.
Sea-level rise and storm surge will increase the risk of major coastal impacts, including both temporary and permanent flooding of airports, roads, rail lines, and tunnels. Flooding from increasingly intense downpours will increase the risk of disruptions and delays in air, rail, and road transportation, and damage from mudslides in some areas. The increase in extreme heat will limit some transportation operations and cause pavement and track damage. In Alaska, the melting of permafrost has already begun to compromise roads, railways, and pipelines. On the plus side, decreased extreme cold will provide some benefits such as reduced snow and ice removal costs.
Federal, state, and local agencies are already taking steps to protect transportation systems from climate change impacts. Adaptation measures across the country are shaped by local impacts. Specific adaptation approaches include:
- raising the elevation of critical infrastructure,
- changing construction and design standards of transportation infrastructure, such as bridges, levees, roads, railways, and airports,
- abandoning or rebuilding important infrastructure in less vulnerable areas.
These adaptations are relatively easy to implement since the transportation infrastructure is in nearly constant need of upkeep — it simply will cost a bit more and will require some foresight in how upgrades are made.