Development of a Methodology for the Assessment of Sea Level Rise Impacts on Florida’s Transportation Modes and Infrastructure

This report provides a methodology for assessing the impacts of sea-level rise (SLR) on Florida transportation infrastructure. The report analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of forecasting SLR in Florida and provides recommendations for how those methods should be used by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). The report also provides recommendations for identifying vulnerable transportation assets and addressing potential impacts of SLR to those assets. After this methodology was developed, FDOT funded a subsequent project to develop a GIS-based planning tool that aids in statewide and regional assessments of transportation asset vulnerability to SLR.

First, the report presents an extensive literature review of existing SLR forecasts. This includes over 300 publications, as well as the findings of several workshops and input from key scientists. An in-depth evaluation is provided for 16 different models used to forecast SLR. Advantages and disadvantages of each model are summarized in a table. The report also discusses the findings of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, a regional collaborative established by the governments of Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties.

From this literature review, the report recommends that FDOT use the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) November 2011 Guidance Document  as the basis for forecasting SLR until more updated information is available. The Corps guidance is recommended for several reasons: the projections are based on both historic tidal data and results from various models; the guidance considers a range of possible rates of SLR over several different planning horizons; and the guidance contains instructions for updating the projections with data from the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. When applied to southeast Florida, the Corps method projects a rise in mean sea level of 3-7 inches by the year 2030, and 9-24 inches by the year 2060.

Second, the report develops a methodology for identifying Florida state roads that are potentially vulnerable to SLR.  ArcGIS was used as the base program to integrate data from a variety of sources and to create a mapping tool. On this mapping tool, FDOT state roadways data was integrated with the Corps’ state SLR projections for the years 2030, 2060, and 2100. This overlay was used to identify state roads under 1-meter of elevation, which are considered potentially vulnerable to 3 feet of SLR.

To identify specific sections of vulnerable roads, the mapping tool was further refined with layers of high-resolution satellite imagery from NOAA and topographic measurements from USGS. This localized approach was demonstrated by three case studies in Dania Beach, Punta Gorda, and Key Largo. The methodology was designed so that it can also be used to identify the vulnerability of railroads, airports, and other infrastructure. Based on this exercise, the report recommends that FDOT develop a similar GIS tool that integrates SLR projections with FDOT data sources in order to assess potentially vulnerable infrastructure.

Third, the report outlines recommendations for addressing the impacts of SLR on existing transportation infrastructure. Florida’s low-elevation topography makes transportation infrastructure along the coast particularly vulnerable to SLR.  For example, flooding could damage both the base and surface of roads in low-lying areas. If the roads provide critical access to other transportation networks, connectivity could be disrupted. To address this issue, the report recommends that FDOT do the following:

  • Improve the drainage system for roadway bases;
  • Where road elevations are below mean high tide, improve stormwater pumping on the road surface or elevate the roads;
  • Re-route current infrastructure away from the most vulnerable areas;
  • Update traffic safety and emergency response plans; and
  • Develop guidance for how to incorporate SLR in long-term transportation planning.

Faculty at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) conducted the research for this report, funded by a grant from FDOT. Subsequent to, and building off the research from, this report, FDOT funded a second research project that resulted in the development of a “sketch planning tool” for assessing transportation asset vulnerability in Florida at the statewide or regional scale. The tool, developed by researchers from the GeoPlan Center at the University of Florida, is GIS-based and utilizes statewide and regional data including USACE sea-level change projections, a digital elevation model, inundation surfaces and various infrastructure layers that include data on roadway locations for different road types and networks. The tool and summary report were completed in September 2013, culminating Phase 1 of this project building off the original FAU research. Phase 2 of this subsequent project began in December 2013 and involved testing and refining the Sketch Planning Tool to improve its efficacy as a decision support tool. The tool was used in two Federal Highway Administration Climate Change Resilience Pilot Projects, to help assess transportation vulnerabilities in the Hillsborough County and South Florida regions, and has been tested in a few other Florida counties and cities as well.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on October 26, 2015.



Publication Date: January 2012

Related Organizations:

  • Florida Department of Transportation
  • Florida Atlantic University (FAU)


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment guide
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

States Affected:


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