Climate Change Adaptation in the Metropolitan Washington Region: Draft Transportation Sector Vulnerabilities

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) Transportation Vulnerability Assessment was developed as part of a broader climate change adaptation initiative.  This preliminary vulnerability assessment for the transportation sector identifies the possible climate impacts to the transportation sector, including roads and bridges, rail, facilities and buildings, bicycle and pedestrian buildings, and airports.

The vulnerability assessment was not based upon downscaled climate data; instead, the assessment uses historical climate data, spatial data, and issues identified in other climate adaptation plans in the region. These plans include: the Virginia Governor’s Commission on Climate Change Final Report; the Northern Virginia Regional Commission’s Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan; the State of Maryland’s Climate Action Plan; the National Capital Planning Commission’s Report on Flooding and Stormwater in Washington, DC; and the District’s climate change resilience plan, which is under development. The assessment also relies on adaptation guides from the U.S. DOT and Maryland State Highway Administration for sector-specific information.

The assessment examines climate-related changes in heat, precipitation variability, severe storms, and sea level rise. Across these changes, the assessment identifies a range of possible impacts.  Identified impacts reflect trends that have already been observed and are projected with medium or high confidence to continue in a 50-year timeframe based upon climate change scenarios. According to the assessment, all transportation infrastructure in the Metropolitan Washington Region will be impacted by: more frequent travel disruptions as a result of downed trees and power outages; increased need for landscape maintenance activities due to drought, invasive species, and severe weather events; changes in infrastructure maintenance needs; and possible increased brush fires and wildfires. Roads and bridges are projected to be impacted by: potential increased road surface damage; increased frequency of street tree replacement and maintenance; increased erosion around roads and bridge footings; and decreased clearance levels under bridges. The region’s rail sector is expected to experience: buckling and expansion damage to infrastructure; increased delays in delivery of goods; and heavier use of pumps due to precipitation and sea level rise. Facilities, buildings, and airports are all projected to require changes and increase in maintenance due to all climate-related impacts.

This preliminary assessment is limited to the identification of climate-related risks, and does not prioritize particular infrastructure or community assets, or identify particular hazard areas. Economic costs of climate change impacts are also not considered. The draft report indicates that additional data is required before hazard prioritization or cost analyses can be conducted.

This transportation sector vulnerability assessment was combined with vulnerability assessments conducted for the buildings, land use, and water sectors into a climate adaptation guidebook to assist stakeholders and local decision-makers in the National Capital Region. That report, the Summary of Potential Climate Change Impacts, Vulnerabilities, and Adaptation Strategies in the Metropolitan Washington Region, was released on July 1, 2013. The project was funded through a grant from the EPA Sustainable Communities program.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on December 23, 2014.


Publication Date: August 2011

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