AASHTO Journal, 26 June 2015
The EPA in a new report said the nation can reap big savings in transportation infrastructure replacement costs by curbing emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases enough to head off some of the predicted effects of climate change.
The report emphasized the “benefits of global action” to curb greenhouse gas emissions that heat up the atmosphere and produce more extreme weather events and trends. It cast the benefits in terms of damages that would be avoided by taking action that reduces the projected upward trend-line of rising temperatures.
While both the report and a brief introductory video show a range of negative effects from climate change, each also repeatedly touched on how preventive action can head off major costs to repair U.S. roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
For instance, the EPA said: “Without climate action, we estimated up to $10 billion in increased road maintenance costs each year by the end of the century. With action, we can avoid up to $7 billion of these damages.”
Similarly, the report projected that global action to curb GHG emissions could prevent up to 960 U.S. bridges from being rendered structurally vulnerable through 2050, with a value saved of $1.5 billion. Carried through the entire century, the report estimated as many as 2,200 bridges could be prevented from falling victim to climate effects due to global warming.
It also said the impact of warmer temperatures, absent global action to change the GHG trend, will be more of the harsh but varied weather that different regions have seen in recent years.
“Without action on climate change,” the EPA said, “California is projected to face increasing risk of drought, the Rocky Mountain region will see significant increases in wildfires, and the mid-Atlantic and Southeast are projected to experience infrastructure damage from extreme temperatures, heavy rainfall, sea level rise, and storm surge.”
As to what that means for transportation infrastructure, the EPA turned to real-world examples in addition to projections.
“Climate change will put added stress on the nation’s aging infrastructure to varying degrees over time. Sea level rise and storm surge, in combination with the pattern of heavy development in coastal areas, are already resulting in damage to infrastructure such as roads, buildings, ports, and energy facilities,” it said.
“Floods along the nation’s rivers, inside cities, and on lakes following heavy downpours, prolonged rains, and rapid melting of snow pack are damaging infrastructure in towns and cities, on farmlands, and in a variety of other places across the nation. In addition, extreme heat is damaging transportation infrastructure such as roads, rails, and airport runways.”