Report: “Climate Change Will Impact the Seattle Department of Transportation”

Seattle’s Office of City Auditor conducted a review of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to identify potential operations, services or structures that could be significantly impacted by anticipated changes in the climate of the Pacific Northwest region. The resulting report “Climate Change Will Impact the Seattle Department of Transportation” is designed to assess the potential impacts on Seattle’s transportation operations and infrastructure, raise awareness, and assist policymakers in developing adaptive strategies.

The report identifies five SDOT areas that could be impacted by climate change: flooding and landslides; seawalls (specifically the Alaskan Way Seawall); bridge conditions; roadway conditions; and trees and vegetation in the public rights-of-way. For each of the five areas, the report discusses how the City currently manages each area, what resources may be needed if incidents in each area were to become more frequent or extreme, and recommends actions the City may consider taking.

The report recommends that the SDOT:

  • Conduct further analysis to determine whether the standards for the Alaskan Way Seawall replacement design sufficiently address the projected rise in sea level; and
  • Determine how climate change will be included in long-term planning related to flooding, landslides, seawall, bridge and roadway conditions, and urban forestry.

The report also recommends that the Executive should establish an interdepartmental team on climate change to:

  • Ensure the consistent use of scientific projections and data in developing City standards, policies and long-range plans;
  • Identify, prioritize and quantify the potential effects of climate change impacts; and
  • Plan appropriate responses to changes in the region’s climate.

In developing this report, the City Auditors:

  • Obtained testimonial information through questionnaires and interviews with SDOT officials;
  • Compiled information from recent scientific studies on global and regional climate change, including studies from the JISAO Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington (sponsored by the Office of Global Programs at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the reports rely on the IPCC Second Assessment Report’s conclusions and model scenarios for global climate change);
  • Verified climate change data with local climate experts from the University of Washington;
  • Interviewed a Seattle-based environmental consultant and City environmental staff to discuss local government efforts to understand and plan for the impacts of climate change;
  • Created an inventory of SDOT operations, services and structures; and 
  • Assessed which SDOT operations, services, and structures could be impacted by climate change.

For an example of SDOT’s efforts to address sea-level rise and coastal impacts in designing infrastructure since this report was released, see a case study on the replacement of the Elliott Bay Seawall.  


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on October 31, 2015.


Publication Date: August 9, 2005

Authors or Affiliated Users:

  • Wendy K. Soo Hoo
  • Megumi Sumitani
  • Susah Cohen

Related Organizations:

  • Seattle Department of Transportation
  • University of Washington
  • City of Seattle, Washington


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

States Affected:


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