Climate Change and Transportation in Maine

This report reviews the best available science on observed and projected climate patterns in Maine, synthesizes the influence of climate change on Maine's transportation infrastructure, and lists the measures the state's Department of Transportation (Maine DOT) will take to address project climate impacts. The report is a preliminary summary of Maine’s proactive approach to transportation planning that addresses climate impacts, positioning Maine DOT to receive support from federal agencies.

This report was inspired by state legislation, LD 460, Resolve to Evaluate Climate Change Adaptation Options for the State, that directed the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to convene a stakeholder group to evaluate actions for adapting to climate change impacts. The legislation was passed by the Maine legislature in April 23, 2009. The legislation also directed the stakeholders, including Maine DOT, to utilize the state's climate impact assessment, Maine’s Climate Future, as the basis for their work.

The report first summarizes Maine’s projected climate impacts. Maine is expected to experience a shift to a warmer, wetter, and stormier environment, with increased average temperatures and a shorter, milder winter. The report uses projections from the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment’s Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast, which include increased frequency and severity of heavy rainfall events as well as expected rise in sea level between 8 inches and 3 feet in the next 100 years.

The report next discusses the impacts these climatic changes will have on Maine’s transportation systems. Expected impacts include:

  • Accelerated degradation of infrastructure due to longer periods of intense heat;
  • Increased tourism-related traffic due to a longer summer season and increased travel to moderate climates such as coastal Maine;
  • Changes to management of snow and ice removal due to shorter, milder, wetter winters;
  • Increased road closures due to flooding and washouts;
  • Sea-level rise impacts, such as inundation of coastal infrastructure, increased erosion, and greater damage from coastal storms;
  • Changes in regulation of threatened or endangered species and barriers to wildlife migration corridors.

The adaptation strategies identified in this report provide both short- and long-term approaches. The short-term strategies include: monitoring infrastructure and climate; assessing infrastructure’s ability to withstand worst-case climate scenarios; conducting cost/benefit and probabilistic risk assessment to prioritize the most vulnerable infrastructure; and incorporating climate change considerations in planning documents. Long-term strategies focus on investing in the resilience of transportation infrastructure, such as by building bridges to compensate for sea-level rise or relocating coastal roads further inland.

The report also discusses the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB’s) recommendation that the California Seismic Retrofit Program used as a model for screening and identifying critical infrastructure. After a 1989 earthquake, the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) had to evaluate 25,000 bridges for seismic retrofitting. CalTrans developed a prioritization method to allocate resources to the most vulnerable bridges by setting a performance standard, developing a risk algorithm based on seismic activity, seismic hazard, impact, and vulnerability, and performing in-depth field inspection of the 2,194 bridges determined to be most vulnerable. TRB suggests, and Maine DOT confirms, that a similar approach could be used to screen transportation infrastructure for vulnerability to future extreme weather events.

Finally, the report lists specific inexpensive, proactive approaches Maine DOT can take or is already taking to improve the agency’s adaptive capacity. These actions include: providing technical guidance to outside entities; applying lessons learned from previous projects to capture institutional knowledge; upgrading design standards from building to Q50 water elevation to building to Q100 water elevation; and incorporating habitat-conscious design measures to maintain and restore habitat connectivity.

This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on October 30, 2015.


Publication Date: October 14, 2009

Related Organizations:

  • Maine Department of Transportation


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

States Affected:


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