Cape Cod (Massachusetts) Interagency Transportation, Land Use, and Climate Change Pilot Project

This report describes a pilot project in Cape Cod, Massachusetts initiated by the federal Interagency Working Group on Transportation, Land Use and Climate Change for the purpose of developing and testing a framework for assessing the effects of sea level rise (SLR) on land- use and transportation infrastructure, and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation sources. The goal of the project was to create a replicable process for other regions to follow for using scenario planning to consider climate change in transportation and land-use plans, and for coordinating across agencies and integrating agency planning processes.

The pilot project employed a framework for scenario planning in which stakeholders evaluate several alternative future scenarios and then select or develop a comprehensive scenario to serve as a vision. This framework reflects how MPOs are using scenario planning and is described in the FHWA Scenario Planning Guidebook. The Pilot Project was focused on using climate change projections through scenario planning and multi-agency coordination, rather than developing specific transportation or land-use planning goals.  

The Pilot Project was built around a two day workshop which required attendees to evaluate complex tradeoffs among land use, conservation, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. During the scenario planning exercise, participants predicted future locations of new housing and employment units, and designated transit improvements. The workshop used an interactive GIS-based software tool, "CommunityViz," which facilitates the development and evaluation of a series of scenarios. Stakeholders could place future households and employment on a digital map embedded with a number of impacts and indicators. A total of 10 transportation and land-use scenarios were developed. Each scenario was assessed using a set of performance indicators that covered GHG mitigation, adaptation to SLR, transit access, and protection of natural ecosystems and other areas of significance. For adaptation planning, participants were able to view the layer identifying areas on Cape Cod vulnerable to SLR, as they placed new housing and employment units.  Areas vulnerable to SLR were determined based upon consideration of elevation, and exposure to storm surge and erosion. To estimate flood risks the study had to rely on FEMA floodplain maps because no localized SLR estimates were available for the area.

A refined scenario, which drew upon the results of the scenario planning workshop, was produced through a series of meetings and exchanges involving staff from the Cape Cod Commission, Cape Cod National Seashore, and Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, and town planners from November 2010 through March 2011. This process allows the pilot project’s specific outcomes to be incorporated into action plans to inform future local and regional planning efforts and project proposals. The project team also worked with federal agencies to help them consider how they could best integrate the approach of the pilot project into planning efforts nationally and in other regions.

The report generated from the pilot project, "A Framework for Considering Climate Change in Transportation and Land Use Scenario Planning: Lessons Learned from an Interagency Pilot Project on Cape Cod," provides information on the actual process followed, observations made, and the recommendations for future scenario planning exercises based on the experience of the pilot. Recommendations for the assessment methodology are described in the section ‘Data Requirements and Scenario Development.’ The conclusion of the report reviews the goals of the project, and outlines recommended steps and considerations for future applications of the process.

Led by the Department of Transportation's Volpe National Transportation Center, key federal, state, regional and local partners participated in the process to design and implement the scenario planning exercise. The Pilot Project Planning Group consisted of federal and regional stakeholders, including representatives from the project sponsors - FHWA, NPS, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - as well as from the EPA, NOAA, Federal Transit Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Defense, Cape Cod Commission, Cape Cod National Seashore, and Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority. A Technical Committee of state and local coastal, climate change, and transportation experts provided technical assistance in areas such as climate change impacts and transportation migration strategies. Funding for the Pilot Project was contributed by FHWA, NPS and FWS.

In July 2013, Volpe launched a second climate change scenario planning project, for the region surrounding Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Central New Mexico scenario planning project builds off the Cape Cod Pilot Project – undertaking a more detailed climate change analysis; focusing on different issues affected to climate change (inland flood risk, wildfire risk, water scarcity and consumption, and crucial habitat areas); and integrating climate change with transportation and land use planning. The Central New Mexico project, which was completed in spring of 2015, involved many of the same federal partners from the Cape Cod project (Volpe, with funding from FHWA, FWS, NPS, and the Bureau of Land Management), the Mid-Region Council of Governments, which home to the MPO for the Albuquerque area (the Mid-Region MPO), and other partners. The project resulted in identification of a preferred land use and transportation scenario for the region that accommodates projected growth while also offering a more sustainable and climate-resilient solution than the status quo or other scenarios. Throughout the course of the project, MRCOG incorporated analysis and findings from the project into its long range transportation planning process, which was updated and approved in April 2015. The scenario planning process also informed related federal planning efforts, including the BLM’s Transportation Management Plan.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on January 26, 2016.


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Publication Date: March 2012

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  • Scenario planning

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