Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) Engineering Department Manual - Climate Resilience Design Guidelines

The Engineering Department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) produced the Climate Resilience Design Guidelines (guidelines) to ensure that climate-related risks are factored into design and management of agency facilities and infrastructure. In particular, the guidelines focus on future sea-level rise projections and provide a methodology for incorporating projections into design criteria while allowing project teams flexibility to design cost-effective solutions.  PANYNJ project architects and engineers are to use the guidelines to assess the vulnerability of projects to future impacts and to address those impacts when designing port authority infrastructure and buildings. The guidelines represent PANYNJ’s “code-plus” approach, meaning that the design guidelines supplement the codes and standards already in force.1 

The guidelines rely on climate change projections produced for the New York City region by the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) in 2015. Appendix A of the guidelines includes a summary of the NPCC mid-range projections (the 25th to 75th percentile from models) for temperature and heat events, precipitation changes, sea-level rise, and flood events. Section 1 of the guidelines summarizes the potential implications for agency infrastructure and operations related to hazards of sea-level rise, precipitation changes, and rising temperatures. For example, the guidelines note that sea-level rise may increase the likelihood of drainage backflow, increase risk of groundwater flooding, and increase the depth and extent of tidal inundation, among other impacts.

The guidelines supplement existing engineering codes by developing a process to adjust the base flood elevation2  to account for sea-level rise, and by broadening the floodplain area under which the guidelines apply in order to accommodate future expansion of the 100-year floodplain due to sea-level rise. Section 2 details a five-step process that project teams must follow:

1. Determine applicability of the guidelines. The guidelines and their design criteria apply to all PANYNJ projects within or “potentially hydrologically or hydraulically connected to a federally delineated tidal floodplain” or within a “projected future tidal floodplain,” which are mapped by the City of New York and adapted for northern New Jersey by PANYNJ. 

2. Include climate resilience in project documents. Specific documents that should include reference to climate change and the guidelines are listed. The guidelines also recommend considering opportunities to also integrate consideration of critical system interdependencies (e.g., electrical, telecommunications).

3. Establish the project design flood elevation (SLR DFE). The SLR DFE is determined based on the FEMA base flood elevation, the asset service life (which determines a SLR adjustment ranging from 16 to 36 inches), and the asset criticality (which determines an additional 12 to 36 inches freeboard depending on other applicable state and/or local codes). The guidelines contain instructions on how to find or determine these three pieces of information. The image below shows how this may look for a critical asset such as PATH (transit system) and vehicular tunnel entrances and vent buildings.

4. Develop resilient design strategies. Project teams are given flexibility to determine the most appropriate (cost-effective, co-beneficial) flood mitigation strategy or strategies. The guidelines identify potential solutions, such as elevation, various protective measures, and site selection/relocation.

5. Conduct a Climate Risk-Enhanced Benefit-Cost Analysis (if applicable): If requested internally or required given the project funding source, project teams should conduct a BCA evaluating the incremental costs of designing with resilience compared to anticipated loss avoided over time (i.e., from flood damage or failure).

Finally, Section 3 of the guidelines identifies how other departments’ design guidelines (e.g., Architecture, Civil, Electrical, etc.) reference climate change and identify potential strategies to enhance resilience in projects and equipment they oversee.

PANYNJ’s environmental efforts date back to the development of the agency’s first environmental policy in June 1993, which was expanded to reaffirm continued commitment to sustainability and to incorporate climate change in 2008. In 2009, the PANYNJ Engineering Department issued a Design Memorandum requiring design of new construction and major rehabilitation projects to be evaluated based on climate change variables, and in 2015, PANYNJ issued Version 1.0 of the Climate Resilience Design Guidelines. The Guidelines were updated in 2018 based on lessons learned from implementation and feedback gathered from internal departments. PANYNJ anticipates future updates will integrate design criteria for other climate change impacts (e.g., extreme heat).


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was originally prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration, and has since been updated to reflect changes to the guidelines. This entry was last updated on June 10, 2020.


Publication Date: January 22, 2015

Related Organizations:

  • The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

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Resource Types:

  • Agency guidance/policy

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