Saturday, January 24, 2015

Resilience at TRB

Resilience to climate change and extreme weather events continues to grow in importance as a topic among transportation professionals and researchers, as shown in some significant sessions at TRB this year (TRB = annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC).
There was way too much content for me to try to summarize, but I do want to mention a few of the key (for me) takeaways.
First, despite the hostile political environment at the federal level, USDOT is aggressively moving forward to incorporate resilience into its programs and policies.  At TRB, FHWA called particular attention to a new policy document: FHWA Order 5520, “Transportation System Preparedness and Resilience to Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events” (available here).  The new order is more of a codification and explicit statement of current policy than formulation of new policy, but it is very important nonetheless.  FHWA states it is committed to “identify the risks of climate change and extreme weather events to current and planned transportation systems,” to “integrate consideration of climate change and extreme weather event impacts and adaptation into its planning, operations, policies and programs,” and to encourage state DOTs and MPOs to “develop, prioritize, implement and evaluate risk-based and cost-effective strategies to minimize climate and extreme weather risks and protect critical infrastructure using the best available science.”  FHWA officials made clear that a key litmus test for state DOTs will be the newly required “risk-based” asset management plan.  The feds are still “digesting” the results of the 19 pilot studies on resilience that they have funded and gave notice that more climate change products and guidance is on the way. 
Second, several states, either as part of an FHWA pilot project or on their own, have done a lot of work in figuring out some very specific and replicable adaptation strategies.  There is still a lot of information to be vetted and shared, but the sheer amount of work done is impressive.  A lot of progress has been made in figuring out how to integrate resilience into asset management planning, not so much for statewide or metropolitan long-range planning.
Third, resilience work seems to be effective in red states as well as blue states.  It appears that people recognize “extreme weather events” and the need to respond to them, even if the local opinion leaders are saturated in anti-science conspiracy theories. 

TRB itself has created a resilience “section” in its complex committee structure, a sure sign that an issue is officially important!

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