National Academies report: environmental resilience of transportation infrastructure should be assessed for all federally funded projects
To ensure routine and deliberate attention to resilience in transportation investments, Congress should consider requiring all projects that are candidates for federal funding undergo resilience assessments to account for natural hazards and the changing risks stemming from climate change, according to a new congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Despite significant progress made over the last decade in integrating resilience criteria into transportation decision-making, the new report finds that resilience is measured and assessed inconsistently, even when it is a prominent factor in the investment planning process.
According to Investing in Transportation Resilience: A Framework for Informed Choices, the US Department of Transportation should promote the inclusion of resilience benefits into its benefit-cost analysis (BCA) for project justifications.
The report also recommends that resilience be measured and assessed using an analytic framework that incorporates detailed inventories of existing and planned assets, such as roads, runways, bridges, docks, and rail lines; assessments of the characteristics and likelihood of future natural hazards; and predictions of the vulnerability of the assets and their critical functions to those hazards.
“Storms, floods, droughts, and other natural hazards are combining with sea level rise and other effects of climate change to disrupt the functioning of the nation’s transportations systems,” said Joseph Schofer, professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate dean at the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “Investing in resilience will require us to make carefully considered choices about how we spend money today to generate benefits that may not be realized until long into the future.”
To guarantee that resilience is a routine and deliberate element of selecting transportation investments, the report recommends that Congress consider a requirement that all federally funded projects involving long-lived assets undergo well-defined resilience assessments that account for the risks from natural disasters and changing climate conditions. These assessments should be integrated into environmental impact statements or other evaluation efforts, such as during BCA. The Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST) should also promote the use of BCA that take into account resilience benefits.
Additionally, the report recommends that Congress should direct and provide resources for the OST to conduct a study to define the types of data that transportation agencies need for resilience analysis, identify potential sources for this data, and advise on possible means for making the data more suitable for the analysis.
The study—undertaken by the Transportation Resilience Metrics Committee—was sponsored by the US Department of Transportation. The National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.