Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report – Transportation Strategies

The Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report provides an assessment of impacts to key infrastructure assets across the state, and presents specific strategies for building the resilience and adaptive capacity of the transportation sector. The report describes the process, principles, findings, and recommendations of the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Committee, and begins the identification and development of adaptation strategies for the state. The ‘Key Infrastructure’ chapter discusses specific vulnerabilities and impacts anticipated for the transportation sector that could result from climate change, and outlines no regret, short-term, and long-term strategies to help increase resilience, decrease vulnerabilities, and better prepare for a changing climate.

The Key Infrastructure chapter (Ch. 5) addresses priority vulnerabilities of the state’s infrastructure. Coastal transportation infrastructure is most vulnerable to sea-level rise and extreme weather events including high winds, waves, and storm surge. Inland infrastructure also may be affected by changing precipitation patterns, extreme weather events, and increased temperatures. Massachusetts may not have sufficient alternative transportation modes and routes available in particularly sensitive locations to provide backup and continuity of service in responding to climate change effects.

To minimize the anticipated impacts of climate change on the infrastructure network the Committee suggests first creating more accurate maps and surveys - such as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) elevation surveys. This information will help detail current conditions, identify vulnerable facilities, and improve predictive capability. This information should then be used to guide the repair and upgrade of existing infrastructure, as well as to improve the siting and design of future infrastructure.

No regrets, short-term, and long-term strategies are provided for the transportation sector. 

No Regrets Strategies include:

1. Continue to maintain existing transportation infrastructure to minimize the chances of flooding or other damage that might occur before final or more permanent adaptation plans can be implemented.

2. Expand the use of the statewide GIS-based system asset maps by combining them with updated floodplain mapping and revised peak flood flow calculations.

3. Formulate risk-based methods to evaluate the service life of infrastructure assets against adverse climate change.

4. Update hydrologic and hydraulic analyses statewide, including engineering methods used in the calculation of peak flood flow rates, to reflect the influence of climate change-induced events (e.g., the U.S. Geological Survey‘s Regionalized Peak Flow Equations for Massachusetts and the 50-year old National Weather Service‘s Precipitation Frequency Atlas, TP-40).

5. Massachusetts DOT and Massachusetts Port Authority should work with regional and municipal agencies to identify, develop and implement engineering solutions - including reconstruction, removal, or relocation of vulnerable infrastructure - to protect existing assets from climate change impacts over the short and long term.

6. Protect existing infrastructure through modifications including elevating, armoring, modifying, or relocating critical infrastructure. Airport, mass transit, port, and highway agencies should consider sizing stormwater management structures (e.g., pipes, culverts, outfalls) for future storm events and balancing upfront costs of incrementally larger structures today with the future costs of replacing an entire drainage system.

Short-Term Strategies:

1.  Public and private transportation entities should adjust standard maintenance and inspection procedures to take into account climate change impacts, including increasing the frequency of routine inspections of coastal and inland bridges and drainage structures, and initiating comprehensive regional asset damage inventories after major storm events.

2.  Revise and develop new design standards to be consistent with guidelines reflecting climate considerations issued by such entities as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), American Public Transit Association (APTA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Long-Term Strategies:

1. Enhance water-based transit options in affected coastal and riverine areas as a long-range transport alternative and as an interim back-up mode when infrastructure is damaged.

2. Develop financing mechanisms. Evaluate and implement new ways to fund the anticipated expenses, including construction and long-term maintenance and operation costs, to address climate change impacts at the state and local levels.

In order to estimate climate change parameters, the Committee detailed the current conditions for the region based upon average observed data, and for two future time periods: (i) a mid-century view to 2064, and (ii) an end-of-the-century prediction.  The two future scenarios used projections from the IPCC (Nakicenovic et al., 2000). The Committee relied on three sources of projections for sea-level rise by 2100: the 2007 IPCC projections; the semi-empirical projections from Rahmstorf et al. (2007), which use a relationship between global mean surface temperature and sea level and then projects future changes using the IPCC Third Assessment Report (2011) temperature scenarios; and Pfeffer et al. (2008), which uses the IPCC (2007) steric projections, and adds ice melt to them.

Authorized under the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008, the Committee was formed in May 2009 to study and make recommendations to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (a cabinet-level office that oversees environmental and energy agencies in the state) on strategies for adapting to climate change.  The Committee included members from federal, state, local, regional government, and NGOs, consultants and academics.  Five technical subcommittees provided in-depth analysis in selected topical areas: Natural Resources and Habitat, Local Economy, Human Health & Welfare, Key Infrastructure, and Coastal Zone & Ocean.   


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


Publication Date: September 2011

Related Organizations:

  • Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Committee


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Adaptation plan

States Affected:


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