Modeling, Identification of Risk Assessment and Categorization Impact of Climate Change on Low Volume Road Systems

Focus Area

Climate Change


Air Quality, Environmental Process







Research Idea Scope

TERI Database Administrator Notes:  Not recommended at present time by 2009 Air Quality Subcommittee. 

While much effort is being expended on the impacts of climate change on critical state and urban transportation issues, the impacts of climate change on low volume roads tends to be overlooked.

This synthesis is proposed to identify modeling processes, risk assessment procedures, risk assessment categorizations and way to include climate change considerations in asset improvement and reconstruction projects on low volume roads.

Hundreds of thousands of miles of low volume roads in the United States are managed by Federal land management agencies and local communities in areas that are subject to sea level rise and changing precipitation levels. These roads are essential to local economies that depend heavily on eco-tourism to Federal lands and resource commodity extraction.

Rising sea levels will result in rising coastal water levels, greater levels of salt water intrusion and increased coastal flooding. Storm events in the coastal areas will bring stronger and more frequent storm surges accompanied by more powerful waves.

Changing precipitation levels will possibly result in more intense rainfall events, greater flooding, higher ground water tables and higher soil moisture levels. These changes will have major impacts along riverine areas with more frequent flooding and loss of road surfaces and base.

These changes will have significant changes in the design, improvement and need for relocation of the low volume transportation infrastructure. Prior to the undertaking of any improvement or reconstruction projects it will be essential to conduct risk assessments of the infrastructure and categorize the importance of relocating, strengthening or downgrading the assets.

Taking into account short term (30 to 40 years) and long term (40 to 100 years) changes in looking at asset life cycles (gravel roads 10 years, asphalt roads 20 years, culverts 30 – 40 years, bridges 50 -100 years) will be of great importance in dealing with rising water tables, increased flooding, more severe storm events and sea level rise.

The need for better modeling processes, risk assessment procedures and categorization will be important in assessing the need to address various climate change impacts on current and future improvement and reconstruction projects.

Information Sources:
Design Standards for U.S. Transportation Infrastructure; Florida’s Resilient Coasts; The Potential Impacts of Global Sea Level Rise on Transportation Infrastructure; Impacts of Climate Change and Variability on Transportation Systems; State Adaptation Planning; TRB SR 290.

Suggested By

AFB30, Low-Volume Roads Committee, as specified in the TRB Research Needs Database, 2009.