Caltrans Activities to Address Climate Change: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Adapting to Impacts

This report provides a comprehensive overview of activities undertaken by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt the state’s transportation system to the impacts of climate change. It also identifies opportunities for additional reductions in GHG emissions and climate adaptation activities that Caltrans may consider in the future.

Each chapter of the report highlights innovative and “high-impact” Caltrans projects that have served as examples of best practices for other transportation departments or have influenced other transportation agencies in California as they work to address climate change. Chapter 8, “Adapting to Climate Variability and Change,” provides an overview of the potential impacts of climate change on Caltrans’ transportation system and operations, and then discusses some of the efforts currently underway to adapt to climate change through planning, project delivery, and maintenance and operations.

Caltrans has begun to incorporate adaptation activities into the long-term planning of new transportation infrastructure. The emphasis of climate change adaptation activities is on sea level rise, due in large part to EO S-13-08, which directs state agencies planning construction projects in areas potentially exposed to sea level rise to consider a range of sea level rise scenarios for the years 2050 and 2100.

In some cases, California’s permitting procedures can help to facilitate Caltrans’ consideration of climate change impacts at the project level. For example, before obtaining a permit for the Piedras Blancas Realignment Project, Caltrans District 5 was asked to analyze the impacts of sea level rise on the project.

In addition to making changes in planning, design, and construction to adapt to climate change, Caltrans is undertaking activities within the maintenance and operations divisions to increase resiliency to climate impacts. For example:

Districts have dealt with erosion and landslide conditions through landscaping. Erosion control grasses that have been planted, particularly along slopes, help prevent soil from being displaced onto the roads. These efforts reduce the maintenance required after large flooding, wind, or precipitation events.

In some districts, Caltrans has made efforts to use drought-resistant plants to reduce maintenance costs, and these efforts will become more important in the future. 

In addition, the report details recommendations of additional climate adaptation activities for Caltrans to consider:

Provide guidance on addressing climate change impacts beyond sea level rise as new information becomes available.

Consider the effects of projected temperature change on the demarcation of pavement climate regions.

Further clarify the use and purpose of ‘Guidance on Incorporating Sea Level Rise.’

Continue Caltrans’ significant stakeholder role in regional planning, and engage in statewide activities that build resilience.


Also in Chapter 8, Table 12: Potential Climate Change Impacts on California Surface Transportation Infrastructure and Associated Adaptation Strategies details projected climate impacts on infrastructure and operations, and possible strategies to mitigate these impacts. The focal impacts include sea level rise and related flooding, erosion and bridge scour; increased intense precipitation leading to landslides, flooding and road washouts; and increased temperature and the related impacts of infrastructure damage, mudslides and wildfire. Possible strategies to manage or prevent these impacts are offered under the categories of planning, design, and operations/maintenance. 



Publication Date: April 2013

Related Organizations:

  • California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Case study

States Affected:


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