How Fortifying Against Extreme Weather Builds a Resilient Future for Infrastructure

How Fortifying Against Extreme Weather Builds a Resilient Future for Infrastructure

The federal government is injecting millions of dollars into projects designed to bolster the United States’ transportation systems against the extreme weather impacts of climate change.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently released $830 million for 80 projects across the country designed to make surface transportation systems more resilient to extreme weather, including flooding, sea-level rise, and heat waves, according to an agency press release.

These grants are the first of their kind dedicated to transportation infrastructure resilience and were made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) Discretionary Grant Program, which according to the release, complements PROTECT Formula funding that is already flowing to states for these types of projects.

A freight train with containers.
The changing climate has altered the landscape of risk for infrastructure globally.

“From wildfires shutting down freight rail lines in California to mudslides closing down a highway in Colorado, from a drought causing the halt of barge traffic on the Mississippi River to subways being flooded in New York, extreme weather, made worse by climate change, is damaging America’s transportation infrastructure, cutting people off from getting to where they need to go, and threatening to raise the cost of goods by disrupting supply chains,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Today… we are awarding nearly $830 million to make transportation infrastructure in 39 states and territories more resilient against climate change, so people and supply chains can continue to move safely.”

As part of the announcement, the Federal Highway Administration awarded funding under four different grant types to 80 projects in 37 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands:

Planning Grants: 26 projects will receive approximately $45 million to help grant recipients develop resilience-improvement plans, resilience planning, predesign and design activities, capacity-building activities, and evacuation planning and preparation initiatives.

Resilience Improvement Grants: 36 projects will receive approximately $621 million to enhance the resilience of existing surface-transportation infrastructure by improving drainage, relocating roadways, elevating bridges, or incorporating upgrades to allow infrastructure to meet or exceed design standards.

Community Resilience and Evacuation Routes: 10 projects will receive approximately $45 million for improvements to enhance the resilience of evacuation routes or to enhance their capacity and add redundant evacuation routes.

At-risk Coastal Infrastructure: Eight projects will receive approximately $119 million to protect, strengthen, or relocate coastal highway and non-rail infrastructure.

A full list of grant recipients can be found here.

“Every community in America knows the impacts of climate change and extreme weather, including increasingly frequent heavy rain and flooding events across the country and sea-level rise that is inundating infrastructure in coastal states,” said FHWA Administrator Shailen Bhatt. “This investment from the Biden-Harris Administration will ensure our infrastructure is built to withstand more frequent and unpredictable extreme weather, which is vitally important for people and businesses that rely on roads and bridges being open to keep our economy moving.”

The Growing Challenge of Extreme Weather

The changing climate has altered the landscape of risk for infrastructure globally. Rising temperatures, increased precipitation in some areas, and prolonged droughts in others present complex challenges that existing infrastructure was not originally designed to withstand. These changes have resulted in more frequent and severe weather events, from the flooding of major urban centers to the destructive paths of hurricanes across coastlines.

Strategies for Enhancing Infrastructure Resilience

Here are some key strategies that governments and industries are adopting to combat the impacts of extreme weather:

Robust Design and Construction

  - Flood-resistant structures: Elevating building foundations, using water-resistant materials, and installing sump pumps and other flood mitigation systems can prevent water damage.

  - Wind-resistant features: For hurricane-prone areas, incorporating wind-resistant roofing and impact-resistant windows ensures structures can withstand high winds and flying debris.

  - Fire-resistant materials: In fire-prone regions, using non-combustible building materials and creating defensible spaces around structures reduce wildfire risks.

Technology and Innovation

  - Smart infrastructure: Leveraging technology like sensors and IoT devices can help monitor the health of infrastructure and provide real-time data to preemptively address potential failures.

  - Advanced modeling techniques: Using computer simulations to predict and plan for potential impacts of extreme weather can guide more informed decisions in infrastructure design and emergency response planning.

Policy and Planning

  - Updated building codes and standards: Implementing and enforcing updated building codes that account for changing climate conditions can dramatically increase new structures' resilience.

  - Strategic urban planning: Encouraging the development away from high-risk areas, such as flood plains and wildfire-prone zones, minimizes potential damage and reduces recovery costs.

Natural and Green Infrastructure

  - Wetlands restoration and maintenance: Wetlands act as natural buffers against storms and floods, absorbing excess water that might otherwise flood urban areas.

  - Urban green spaces: Parks, gardens, and green roofs can help manage stormwater, reduce heat islands, and improve air quality, contributing to overall urban resilience.

Cars traveling on a highway as the sun sets.
The federal government is injecting millions of dollars into projects designed to bolster the United States’ transportation systems against the extreme weather impacts of climate change.

Case Studies of Resilience

Several initiatives across the United States exemplify the successful implementation of resilience strategies:

- New York City's post-Sandy rebuilding: Following Hurricane Sandy, New York City launched comprehensive efforts to rebuild more resiliently. This included constructing seawalls, elevating homes and infrastructure, and enhancing the resilience of the electrical grid.

- Miami's focus on flood prevention: Miami has invested in pump stations, raised roadways, and revised building codes to combat the increasing problem of flooding, especially from rising sea levels and storm surges.

Economic and Social Benefits of Resilient Infrastructure

Investing in resilient infrastructure not only reduces the cost of disaster recovery but also provides substantial economic benefits:

- Reduced recovery and repair costs: Stronger, more resilient structures withstand extreme conditions better, reducing the need for frequent and expensive repairs.

- Economic stability: By maintaining functional infrastructure, businesses can operate uninterrupted, which is crucial for local economies during and after disasters.

- Community well-being: Resilient infrastructure helps ensure that essential services such as hospitals, schools, and emergency services remain operational during crises, providing a sense of security and normalcy for residents.

Challenges and Future Directions

Despite the clear benefits, there are significant challenges to enhancing infrastructure resilience:

- Funding: Even with the recently announced federal funding initiatives, the high initial costs of upgrading and building resilient infrastructure can be a major barrier for many communities. This is especially true in developing regions.

- Policy coherence: Coordinating between various levels of government and different sectors is essential for effective resilience planning but can be difficult to achieve.

- Technological integration: While technology offers promising solutions, integrating new systems into existing infrastructure requires careful planning and significant investment.

As extreme weather events become more common, the importance of resilient infrastructure cannot be overstated. By investing in robust construction, embracing innovation, updating policies, and utilizing natural solutions, communities can safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change.

While challenges remain, the path forward must include a coordinated, comprehensive approach that ensures all communities can thrive in the face of increasing climatic threats. Building resilience today is not just about preventing future disasters; it's about creating a sustainable and secure future for generations to come.

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