Pennsylvania Climate Adaptation Planning Report – Infrastructure Chapter

The Pennsylvania Climate Adaptation Planning Report presents climate adaptation recommendations and strategies developed by stakeholder working groups from key sectors, including the infrastructure sector with a focus on transportation. The Infrastructure working group identified the key focus areas, vulnerabilities and risks to infrastructure assets; and prioritized actions (high, medium or low) based upon specific criteria including cost, timeliness of implementation, political support, data availability, planning, risk level, co-benefits, and risks to public health and safety. The Report includes recommendations for adapting water, energy, and communications infrastructure, but this case study will just focus on transportation.

Appendix A, the ‘Infrastructure Matrix’, is organized by current and future climate changes that could impact infrastructure. For each projected change in the climate, the Report identifies the risks posed to the transportation sector.

  • Extreme heat can cause roadways to buckle and bridges to fail; higher temperatures can impact construction materials and personnel; higher temperatures can cause invasive species to encroach on right-of-ways and block signs.
  • Wetter winters and more intense winter storms can increase flooding and debris blocking water flow; roadways may degrade due to more water and increased freeze/thaw cycle.
  • More high impact storms could increase soil erosion.

The Report identifies high priority vulnerabilities and recommends corresponding strategies for responding to potential impacts. For each recommendation the report also assigns a priority (using the criteria listed above). The following are the high-priority actions recommended in the plan for near-term action:

  • Research materials that can be used that could withstand higher temperatures and prevent or reduce concrete expansion and softening pavements that can cause roadways and/or bridges to buckle and fail.  
  • Schedule work activities during cooler portions of the day to reduce heat impacts to both materials and workers.
  • Perform more frequent inspection of transportation infrastructure after extreme weather events, particularly for erosion impacts.
  • Change design standards for areas prone to flooding.
  • Consider relocating roadways located in flood-prone areas (specified as low-priority due to high costs of construction and acquisition of new right-of-ways).

The infrastructure chapter also describes a few successful adaptation measures taken in response to extreme weather events, which directly impacted the state’s roadways and public transit. First, the report details efforts taken to respond to the summer 2010 heat wave: Pennsylvania’s North-East Corridor commuter rail lowered train speeds to prevent derailments caused by heat-related track misalignment, and Amtrak developed a hot weather response plan, which includes staffing trains with additional mechanics and stationing rescue locomotives throughout its service area. 

The Report also details emergency communications efforts instituted by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to respond to more intense storms requiring road closures. PennDOT restructured its coordination with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Pennsylvania State Police and other local emergency organizations to improve its storm response after winter weather events in 2007 caused hundreds of people to be stranded overnight on Interstates 78, 80 and 81.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Pennsylvania’s Climate Change Advisory Committee (CCAC) developed the report to identify practical implementation strategies addressing climate change impacts on the state‘s human environment, including the built environment, and natural resources. The Report was developed in response to a directive to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to develop a plan to mitigate the state’s contribution of greenhouse gas emissions as called for by the Pennsylvania Climate Change Act, Act 70 of 2008. Although the CCAA was not required to address adaptation planning by the legislation, the CCAA included both mitigation and adaptation recommendations in its reports to the Governor and General Assembly. In February 2009, the CCAC passed a motion with unanimous support to include adaptation in state climate action plans sent to the Governor and the Pennsylvania General Assembly. On March 18, 2010, a planning process to develop an adaptation report received the support of the CCAC. 

The Report relied on the 2009 Pennsylvania Climate Impact Assessment conducted by Penn State University, which used General Circulation Models (GCMs) and projected the following impacts from climate change for the state: increases in temperatures (7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century under the A2 high emissions scenario), an overall increase in annual precipitation (with less falling as snow in winter months), increases in heavy precipitation, and longer-periods of drought.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on October 30, 2015.


Publication Date: March 2010

Related Organizations:

  • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Adaptation plan

States Affected:


Go To Resource