Identify and Develop Climate Change Modeling Outputs and Climate Scenarios to Support Transportation Agencies in Assessing Climate Risks and Adaptation Strategies

Focus Area

Climate Change


Air Quality, Environmental Process







Research Idea Scope

States and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) are developing and evaluating transportation plans and programs on an ongoing basis. There is increasing awareness that future climate conditions may affect the resilience of the transportation infrastructure and services envisioned in these plans. However, it is currently difficult for transportation agencies to incorporate information about potential changes in climate in transportation planning and investment processes. 
While there are a range of institutional and process barriers to effectively using climate projections in transportation decisions, one major obstacle is the lack of information and model outputs regarding potential climate scenarios. To be useful in the transportation planning process, climate projections need to be available at an appropriate geographic scale and include information on the probability and severity of potential impacts. Further, transportation planners need to develop risk analysis approaches to use these inputs appropriately, using a probabilistic framework that incorporates both the likelihood of impacts as well as the significance of the infrastructure or service component that may be affected by the climate effect. 
The capacity of climate scientists to provide region-specific, “downscaled” climate scenarios is rapidly advancing, but collaboration between the climate science community and the transportation practitioners who need this information is at a very early stage. This project is designed to address the gap in climate information and methodologies confronting transportation decision makers as they seek to make sound transportation plans and investment decisions today, while providing a framework for future advancements in this critical area.
The objective of this project is to advance the state of practice in incorporating climate information into transportation decision making. The research will:
·      Identify existing modeling tools that provide climate data and projections at a resolution and scale sufficient to support regional and sub-regional transportation decision-making, including both information on long-range climatic change and information about the likelihood and extent of extreme events. 
·      Develop methods to use the outputs of existing models to produce climate change impact information for long and short range planning for both passenger and freight demand. Develop a risk-assessment approach to enable transportation agencies to plan and manage transportation networks incorporating a range of potential climate futures, levels of uncertainty, and prioritization of adaptation responses.
·      Identify gaps in existing modeling capabilities to inform climate researchers on needs of the transportation user community, and recommend interdisciplinary approaches to develop a next generation of climate models that will address transportation needs.
Urgency/PriorityHigh. In order to development transportation plans and programs that seek to reduce he climate change impacts of transportation projects and polices, planners need to be able to estimate the climate change impacts of their various alternatives. These planners need to have this capability now to be able to perform their analyses.

Urgency and Payoff

These methods would be used by transportation planners to evaluate the risks of climate change impacts to transportation infrastructure and services, and incorporate this information into transportation plans and programs.
EffectivenessThe development and application of these methods would allow the planners to improve the resiliency of the transportation system to potential future climate impacts and severe events, and to prioritize adaptation strategies to address the most significant risks to system performance.

Suggested By

RNS. Sponsoring Committee: A0020T, Special Task Force on Climate Change and Energy Source Info: Special Task Force on Climate Change and Energy January 2010 Workshop