Climate Change Adaptation for Pavements - FHWA TechBrief

This Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) TechBrief summarizes potential impacts of climate change on asphalt and concrete pavement systems and adaptation strategies that transportation agencies might pursue to limit impacts on these systems. The brief indicates that most of the research to date on climate change implications for pavements has been general, but efforts have grown to integrate climate change considerations into pavement design and to predict performance of pavements based on climate scenarios.

The brief notes that existing research has found that the timeframe for climate change impacts is likely to be on the same scale of a typical pavement lifecycle (20 to 40 years), so pavement design will likely require changes in the future but not in the immediate near-term. It emphasizes the importance of monitoring pavement performance indicators - such as rutting, cracking, and freeze-thaw durability - over time to identify trends and discern how climate change is influencing performance. Drawing on existing research, the brief identifies affected pavement components and potential adaptation strategies for different climate change impacts, such as:

  • Higher average temperatures: For flexible pavements, higher temperatures will increase potential for rutting, requiring more rut resistant asphalt mixtures
  • Potential for more freeze-thaw events in some locations: For rigid pavements, concrete materials that are more resistant to freeze-thaw cycling and deicer applications may be required
  • More extreme rainfall events: Greater need for surface friction and skid resistance may necessitate strategies like utilizing porous surface mixtures, and increased need for surface drainage may require greater culvert capacity.

The brief recommends short-term and long-term adaptation strategies for different aspects of pavement system management, and recommends five broad adaptation strategies for pavements:

  1. Monitor key performance parameters and trends over time to determine when design, materials, and other practices should be altered;
  2. In design, use predictive climate models instead of historical data and opt for designs that allow more adaptive capacity and flexibility;
  3. Investigate more robust paving materials and designs to perform better in extreme conditions;
  4. Adjust construction seasons as needed for worker safety and comfort; and
  5. For extreme weather events, focus resilience efforts primarily on embankment height and relocation of roads, and use fortification of pavement structures as a last-resort option.

Publication Date: August 2015

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