Maryland Climate Change and Coast Smart Construction Infrastructure Siting and Design Guidelines

In December 2012, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed an Executive Order (EO) entitled “Climate Change and ‘Coast Smart’ Construction,” requiring state agencies to consider risks of coastal flooding and sea-level rise in state capital budget projects, and requiring the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to develop guidelines for the siting and design of infrastructure and other projects. Pursuant to the EO, in January 2014, the DNR-led Climate Change and Coast Smart Construction Working Group published “Coast Smart” Guidelines that provide recommendations to institutionalize consideration of coastal flooding and sea-level rise in planning and constructing all new or rehabilitated state structural and infrastructure projects, as well as state-funded private projects.

Effective July 1, 2018, Maryland strengthened its Coast Smart siting and design criteria to better manage sea level rise and improve coastal adaptation efforts. Maryland HB 1350/ SB 1006 also requires the state to establish a plan to adapt to saltwater intrusion, and to build criteria for hazard mitigation funding for sea level rise and coastal flooding. Additionally, by July 1, 2019, local jurisdictions that experience nuisance flooding must submit a plan to address this climate impact. The updated criteria can be found in the 2018 legislation summary.   

The Coast Smart Guidelines, which are intended to guide development in vulnerable areas, include planning principles, a policy framework, and siting and design guidelines for structures and infrastructure such as roads and bridges. 

The siting guidelines, which relate to the geographic location of a structure or infrastructure, include recommendations to:

  • avoid construction or reconstruction of infrastructure projects in areas likely to be inundated within 50 years;
  • avoid locating state “critical or essential facilities” within Special Flood Hazard Areas as designated for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP); and
  • protect these facilities from damage resulting from a 500-year flood. 

Beginning July 1, 2019, if a state or local project includes the reconstruction of a structure with substantial damage, it must be reconstructed in a manner to withstand category 2 hurricane storm surge, and at a elevation that is at minimum above the projected storm surge. The criteria do not apply to a public work contracts of less than $500,000.

The design guidelines pertain to the construction of the structure or infrastructure and generally recommend designing new major infrastructure projects to avoid or minimize future impacts from sea-level rise, coastal flooding, and storm surge over the project lifetime. More specifically, the design guidelines recommend constructing most state structures serving transportation purposes with a minimum of 2 feet of freeboard above the NFIP 100-year base flood elevation. The design guidelines also recommend that structures and infrastructure within a “Limit of Moderate Wave Action” (LiMWA) boundary (a portion of the NFIP Coastal A Zone subject to a 1.5-foot or greater wave height) be designed according to the more stringent standards applicable to Zone V (coastal high hazard areas subject to flooding and 3-foot or greater waves during the 1-percent-annual-chance flood event). Both the siting and design guidelines detail criteria that may warrant exceptions from them.

The Coast Smart Guidelines also provide recommendations for institutionalization of the Guidelines into state policies and programs, through incorporation in particular manuals, programs, policies or regulations, and planning processes. For example, it recommends that the Guidelines be used to further analyze, evaluate, and guide Maryland Department of Transportation climate change and sea-level rise planning efforts that are already underway, such as modal agency project planning, State Highway Administration vulnerability assessments, and NEPA pre-planning processes.  It also recommends that the Guidelines be incorporated into appropriations and funding decisions, including the Department of Management and Budget’s Facility Program Manual and state grant and loan programs for non-state structure and infrastructure projects. The Guidelines recommend that Maryland’s Smart Growth Sub Cabinet provide oversight to state agencies as they work to institutionalize the siting and design guidelines into design manuals, regulatory programs, planning, permitting, disaster planning and response, and capital budgeting.

Finally, Appendix D of the Guidelines provides a project screening checklist through which the siting and design guidelines are intended to be administered.  The screening process considers the project’s lifetime, proposed location and projected vulnerability to sea-level rise impacts, any ecological features that can serve to increase resiliency, resiliency measures adopted pursuant to the Guidelines, and cost-benefit analysis.

The purpose of the EO and subsequent Coast Smart Guidelines is to ensure that Maryland is making sound structural and infrastructure investments in light of sea-level rise and other coastal impacts related to climate change. The EO notes that Maryland has experienced over one foot of sea-level rise in the last century, and that approximately 400 miles of roadways exist in areas likely to be impacted by sea-level rise over the next century.  Accordingly, the EO directed the Maryland Commission on Climate Change Scientific and Technical Working Group (STWG), which was originally convened for the purpose of helping to draft Maryland’s Climate Action Plan, to update sea-level rise projections for the state. The STWG published updated projections in June 2013, and the Coast Smart Guidelines recommend that all state agencies utilize the 2013 sea-level rise projections when applying the Coast Smart planning principles, policy framework, and siting and design guidelines. 

In May 2014, former Maryland Governor O’Malley signed legislation establishing the Coast Smart Council within DNR, and requiring that the council adopt coast smart siting and design criteria to address sea-level rise and coastal flooding before June 30, 2015. The criteria would go into effect beginning July 1, 2015 for any state capital projects involving construction of a structure or reconstruction of a structure with substantial damage. The legislation also declared the intent that, until the council’s criteria go into effect, state agencies proposing capital projects must comply with the guidelines and requirements of the previous 2012 Coast Smart Executive Order. The Council approved siting and design criteria and implementation procedures on June 26, 2015 (to become effective July 1, 2015), that differ slightly from but are generally consistent with the previously-developed DNR guidelines from January 2014. For example, the Council’s design criteria add a requirement that all new “critical and essential” structures or reconstruction located within Special Flood Hazard Areas be constructed with a minimum of 3 feet of freeboard (compared to the 2 feet required for non-critical structures). The siting and design requirements are now implemented through the Coast Smart Construction Program.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on October 28, 2015.


Publication Date: January 31, 2014

Related Organizations:

  • Maryland Department of Natural Resources

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  • Agency guidance/policy

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