FHWA Midwest Adaptation Peer Exchange Report: Minimizing the Impacts of Climate Change on Transportation Systems in the Midwest

The Midwest Adaptation Peer Exchange Report summarizes the outcomes of two Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sponsored peer-exchange events that focused on minimizing the impacts of climate change on transportation assets in the Midwest. Participants included Indiana MPOs and Midwestern state DOTs. The purpose of the peer exchanges was to identify and share tools that are available to local, regional, and state transportation managers to encourage them to prepare for and minimize climate impacts on transportation infrastructure. The Report presents the findings and conclusions of the workshop.

Indiana State Climatologist Dev Niyogi informed participants that climate models predict that the Midwest will become warmer and wetter. Dan Ghere from the FHWA Resource Center noted that these climate impacts are likely to result in increases in heavy rain events which will affect bridges, culverts, and drainage systems. Roads, tunnels, rails, and runways will also likely see increased flooding. These assets may also be damaged by extreme heat and slope failures. In some cases, climate change will not be the direct cause of asset failure, but may influence the frequency of these failures. The peer exchange was intended to help local, regional, and state agencies responsible for transportation assets plan for and manage these climate impacts in order maintain critical transportation networks.

Participants agreed that MPOs and DOTs can manage climate change as part of a multi-hazard planning approach to asset management. MPO peer exchange participants concluded that county hazard mitigation plans could be used as a vehicle for climate adaptation. To do so, they identified a number of critical steps that are needed, including updating floodplain maps, using Hazus-MH (a tool developed by The Polis Center to develop Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plans) to locate vulnerable assets, and increasing coordination and information sharing between agencies. DOT representatives identified the asset management framework that transportation agencies are already using as an opportunity to integrate climate considerations into their processes. Specifically, Stephen Gaj of FHWA suggested that transportation planners and managers need to identify critical assets, understand existing and future vulnerabilities, and address these vulnerabilities through the asset management process. Integrating climate change considerations into their existing management practices offers the most efficient and likely-to-be-adopted method for reducing the vulnerability to transportation assets.

MPOs and DOTs identified specific areas in which additional support would enable them to better prepare for climate change.  Participants identified a need for:

  • modeling tools to help them identify assets vulnerable to climate impacts and prioritize the most important assets for adaptation.
  • help moving from planning and process to implementation of adaptation strategies.
  • additional information about the costs and benefits of adaptation, particularly at the project level.

The peer exchanges took place on April 28 and 29, 2011 in Indianapolis, IN. Twenty-two people participated in the first day of the peer exchange. These participants included FHWA officials and representatives from nine Midwestern MPOs, Indiana State DOT officials, and private sector, NGO, and academic experts. On the first day of the peer exchange, experts presented on projected climate impacts for the Midwest, FHWA’s conceptual model to help transportation agencies identify and manage climate impacts, and the use of multi-hazard mitigation planning to identify and manage climate impacts. On the second day, participants included DOT staff from Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio; FHWA staff; and representatives from the private sector, NGO, and academic communities. Experts presented on bridge scour and the potential for climate change to increase this risk, ways transportation engineers and managers can better communicate and plan for this climate impact, opportunities to use asset management frameworks to manage climate risks, and ways to address climate risks through regular transportation planning processes.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on February 6, 2015.


Publication Date: May 27, 2011

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  • Case study
  • Engagement
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

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