PANYNJ Assessment of the Vulnerability to the Impacts of Climate Change

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) conducted a vulnerability and risk assessment of the agency’s critical infrastructure to the anticipated effects of climate change, including sea-level rise and increased storm surge, precipitation, and temperatures.  PANYNJ analyzed climate-related vulnerability and level of risk for a wide variety of agency infrastructure, including airports, marine terminals, tunnels and bridges, rails, bus stations, and other facilities.  The risk analysis was used to prioritize the highest risk assets and develop adaptation strategies for those assets.  In conducting the study and developing adaptation strategies, PANYNJ found that in some cases, previous capital improvements undertaken for reasons unrelated to climate change also had unintended adaptive co-benefits.

To assess vulnerabilities of the agency’s infrastructure to climate impacts, PANYNJ used projections completed by the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) and published in a 2009 report.  The NPCC projected changes in sea level, temperature, precipitation, and 100-year and 500-year coastal storms out to the 2020s, 2050s, and 2080s. The PANYNJ engineering department identified major facilities that could be affected by these projected climate change effects, and classified certain assets as “at risk” using criteria such as topography, proximity to coastal waters, past performance during extreme weather events, and relative importance of the asset.  PANYNJ analyzed flood-related risk using elevation data and topographic maps, and evaluated impacts of other projected climate effects, including more frequent heat waves and intense rainfall, on infrastructure such as agency building systems and roadway drainage systems.  Many building components such as electrical and heating/ventilation systems were not considered to be at risk because of their relatively short life spans,  which allows for opportunities to these systems in the near term.

For at-risk assets, PANYNJ then assessed the quantitative and qualitative level of risk based on the likelihood of a particular climate effect occurring during the asset’s lifetime, and the magnitude of the consequences of such an occurrence.  The agency input the results of this analysis into a risk matrix to help set priorities for investing in assets that need to be adapted in the immediate term.  Assets facing the highest levels of risk (i.e. high likelihood of a major event such as a coastal storm occurring, and high magnitude of consequences from the event) received priority for development and implementation adaptation strategies.  In contrast, assets at a lower risk due to a lower likelihood of an extreme event occurring were generally categorized as “watch” assets, which PANYNJ will monitor and re-evaluate in the future.

Finally, PANYNJ developed and categorized adaptation strategies that may be applied in the immediate term to the highest risk assets.  Strategies fell into one of three categories: maintenance and operations (such as using sandbags or temporary floodgates, or moving rolling stock); capital investments (such as installing new flood barriers, elevating infrastructure, or moving facilities to higher elevation); or regulatory strategies (such as modifying building codes or design standards).

The agency found that several earlier capital improvement projects that involved engineering design redundancy include features that will also serve as adaptation strategies and increase infrastructure resilience to future impacts.  For example, some asphalt mixes designed to improve performance under heavy loads are also anticipated to perform better under increasing temperatures anticipated with climate change. 

While conducting the study, PANYNJ learned many lessons that may be useful to transportation engineers, administrators, owners, and operators.  For example, PANYNJ found that access to accurate data and information, including institutional knowledge, was critical for vulnerability and risk analysis.  In particular, reliable information on site topography and elevation was important to assess risks related to the region’s most significant climate-related threat, flooding caused by storm surges exacerbated by sea-level rise.  PANYNJ used localized elevation data from site surveys when it was available, as it provided more precise data than most topographic maps from other sources, such as FEMA flood insurance rate maps. 

PANYNJ’s Office of Environmental and Energy Programs completed this study as part of a larger climate change assessment led by the New York City Long-Term Planning and Sustainability Office.  A Climate Change Adaptation Task Force was created and separated into five working groups that both analyzed the vulnerabilities of different infrastructure to climate change and developed coordinated strategies to improve infrastructure resilience.  PANYNJ participated in the transportation working group along with other public and private transportation entities in the region.  The overall Task Force effort and climate change assessment informed the City’s comprehensive sustainability plan, called PlaNYC.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on June 11, 2015.


Publication Date: April 2011

Related Organizations:

  • The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey


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Resource Types:

  • Assessment

States Affected:


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