Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) Climate Change Action Plan

This Climate Change Action Plan was developed by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector in the state, and to adapt the state’s transportation infrastructure to the effects of climate change. 

The adaptation section of the Plan discusses the vulnerability of Vermont’s transportation infrastructure and recommendations for moving forward with adaptation. First, the Plan provides a brief overview of global trends and regional climate models. Anticipated changes include: more frequent days with temperatures above 90º F; less winter precipitation falling as snow and more as rain; reduced snowpack and increased snow density; earlier breakup of winter ice on lakes and rivers; earlier spring snowmelt resulting in earlier peak river flows; and rising sea-surface temperatures and sea levels.  For these projections, the Plan relies on Regional Climate Projections: Assessment of Projected Climate Change for North America included in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and a Union of Concerned Scientists report, Confronting Climate Change in the Northeast.  

The section then identifies potential threats to Vermont’s transportation infrastructure posed by climate change, including: flooding and erosion of low lying transportation assets; increases in the intensity and frequency of storm events and associated increased flow and erosion; increases in bridge scour resulting from elevated stream flow and erosion; accelerated pavement wear due to more frequent freeze-thaw cycles; strain on evacuation and emergency preparedness resources; changes in winter maintenance demands resulting from less predictable snowfall levels and more frequent freeze events; and less certain supply chains for diesel fuel, salt, and sand, requiring greater stockpiling.

Citing a March 2008 Transportation Research Board (TRB) study, Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation, the Plan provides several recommendations for addressing impacts to transportation infrastructure. The Plan warns against reliance on historical data, noting that climate change may cause more frequent extreme weather events. Storms that were previously considered 100-year events may now be 50-year events, with their frequency only increasing as climate change continues. The Plan also emphasized the need for early planning, noting that modest investments now could help avoid greater expenditures and costly service disruptions in the future. It lays out the TRB decision framework for managing the impacts of climate change on transportation infrastructure:

(1) Assess how climate changes are likely to impact various modes of transportation.

(2) Inventory essential transportation infrastructure in consideration of climate change projections to determine “whether, when, and where the impacts could be consequential.”

(3) Analyze adaptation options and assess the trade-offs and costs of adapting assets.

(4) Prioritize adaptation investment by considering the criticality of the asset and the potential for co-benefits (e.g., congestion relief, removal of evacuation route bottlenecks).

(5) Develop and implement a program of adaptation strategies for the near and long terms.

(6) Periodically assess the effectiveness of adaptation strategies and repeat steps 1–5.

Based on this framework, the Plan recommends the development of a process to improve communication among transportation professionals, climate scientists, and other state, federal and academic experts; the creation of a “clearinghouse” for transportation-relevant climate change information; and the creation of task force to examine the best available science on anticipated changes in stream flow and flooding and the effect on bridge and culvert design, stormwater management, and roadway location and maintenance. 

The Plan recommends that the state shift to more dynamic weather projections for infrastructure management decisions, “based on an order of magnitude basis rather than a static projection.” To prioritize investments, the Plan recommends that VTrans focus on the safety of the system and prioritize efforts to inspect and protect critical structures from scour.

Finally, the Plan recommends a comprehensive vulnerability assessment to identify critical transportation infrastructure assets that are at risk from climate change impacts. It emphasized the first priority should be protecting critical corridors that are essential for maintaining network performance. It also indicates that this effort should incorporate considerations that affect traffic levels and roadway function including land-use planning, shifts to alternative modes, and telecommunications infrastructure.

The VTrans Climate Change Action Plan was developed in response to Governor James Douglas’ December 5, 2005, Executive Order 07-05, which created the Governor’s Commission on Climate Change. The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) built on the transportation-related recommendations in the Commission’s report to develop this Climate Change Action Plan, which was released in June 2008.

 

This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on December 29, 2014.

Publication Date: June 2008

Related Organizations:

  • Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans)

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