Major Cities' Adaptation to Global Climate Change

Focus Area

Climate Change


Air Quality, Environmental Process






1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

Major cities contain critical multi-modal infrastructure for both the movement of people and goods including some of the oldest systems still operated in the U.S. Climate change impacts such as rising sea level, increased storm intensity and increased heat could cause unprecedented disruption to major facilities and economic systems. This research would respond to questions such as assessing risk by region and system characteristics, considering potential adaptation strategies and their impact on economic and social well being. (TRB critical issue: Energy and Environment)
The purpose of this research is to provide relevant approaches for relocating, redesigning, or hardening transportation systems and structures given anticipated long-term climate changes for the unique needs of transportation in major cities.
RESEARCH PROPOSEDGeneralized work on adaption issues has been conducted for highways, transit, ports, and other modal facilities. This research project would take the generalized information and apply them to the unique circumstances of major cities. The work would be multimodal and consider the difficulty of working in a highly constrained physical environment comprised of multiple legacy systems. The research would consider the interaction and impact of non-transportation infrastructure and private development on transportation adaption options. The research would cover issues of reconstruction along with questions about changes in operational and maintenance regimes based on adaptation needs.

“Transportation Adaptation to Global Climate Change” by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Cambridge Systematics, 2009
TRB Special Report 290, “Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation,” Washington, D.C., 2008.
“Summary Report: Peer Workshop on Adaptation to Climate Change Impacts,” Federal Highway Administration, Washington, D.C., 2008
Zimmerman, Rae, “Global Climate Change and Transportation Infrastructure; Lessons from the New York Area,” presented at The Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Transportation in Washington, D.C., 2003
In progress:
NCHRP 20-83-05, “Long-Range Strategic Issues Facing Transportation Industry” is anticipated to start work on “Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Transportation Infrastructure and Operations, and Adaptations Approaches”
“Mainstreaming Climate Change Adaptation Strategies into New York State Department of Transportation’s Operations” by Columbia University for NYSDOT
 “Understanding the Impacts of Climate Change on the I-95 Corridor in Maryland and Delaware” by the University of Delaware for the I-95 Corridor Coalition.

Urgency and Payoff

URGENCY AND PAYOFF POTENTIALThere is significant potential payoff. Major cities will need to reconstruct major portions of obsolete urban infrastructure originally developed 50, 100, or more years ago. New and reconstructed structures should provide similar if not longer durability. If the structures do not anticipate long-term changes sea level, storm surges, or rainfall intensity, they again will need to be rebuilt.

Suggested By

RNS. Sponsoring Committee: ABE30, Transportation Issues in Major U.S. Cities Source Info: David Kuehn, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)