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Highways and Climate Change: Adapting to Effects and Impacts

Background

In transportation terms, adaptation refers to changes in the way surface transportation infrastructure is planned, designed, constructed, operated, and maintained. Adaptation to global climate change (GCC) is critical to protecting the nation’s transportation system. Current efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the atmosphere, while important for reducing the long-term effects of global climate change, will likely have little effect on expected GCC impacts over the next twenty or thirty years. Policymakers, transportation planners, and system managers, therefore, must proactively and cooperatively adapt to GCC in order to continue to deliver the public a safe, reliable, effective, and sustainable transportation system.

"Adaptation" is not a new term for transportation decision makers. Legislation encouraging action agencies to develop and apply a portfolio of adaptation and mitigation responses to reduce the loss of life and property to weather-related natural hazards have existed since flood management laws were enacted in the late 1930s. The fact that the rate of climate change is now accelerating necessitates a new strategy for action.


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