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FTA works toward climate change resilience

FTA works toward climate change resilience

2012 brought us the warmest year on record for the continental United States. It also brought us more than $100 billion in damages from climate and weather disasters, including $65 billion from Hurricane Sandy alone. The images from Sandy--boats strewn across New Jersey rail lines, flooded PATH tunnels, and underwater MTA stations--offer a clear demonstration of the climate challenges transit agencies face.

The Federal Transit Administration has been working hard to help America's transit agencies protect themselves against the negative effects of climate change.

Photo of submerged 86th Street subway station

In 2013, federal agencies released Climate Change Adaptation plans for the first time. Because of the potential of climate change to affect the department’s strategic goals of Safety, State of Good Repair, and Environmental Sustainability, DOT was years ahead of this effort. An FTA report published in August 2011, entitled “Flooded Bus Barns and Buckled Rails,” noted that “the most disruptive near-term impact [of climate change] is likely to be intense rainfall that floods subway tunnels and low-lying facilities, bus lots, and rights-of-way.”

And this proved true in Hurricane Sandy. Four of the nation's seven largest public transit systems are located in the northeast where climate change models forecast the largest increase in rain intensity in coming decades. In fact, the effects of a single storm touched one-third of the entire nation's transit riders.

Rising sea levels pose an additional threat to transit agencies on our coasts. Besides flooding, severe precipitation can also cause landslides and mudslides. Extreme wind speeds can damage bridges, signs, overhead cables, and other tall structures.

The 2011 FTA report also noted that higher temperatures can reduce the life of transit assets and increase operational disruptions. Heat can break down asphalt and buckle rail track, resulting in downtime or derailments.

President Obama's climate change plan asks federal agencies to support climate-resilient investments and to help communities prepare for change. At FTA, the first test-case for these investments is Hurricane Sandy.

To date, FTA has allocated $5.7 billion to the area’s most impacted transit agencies, of which $1.3 billion has been dedicated to locally prioritized projects to make transit systems more resilient to future disasters. FTA will also develop a competitive process for additional funding to identify and support larger, stand-alone resilience projects in the impacted region.

In addition to the FTA's efforts, the Federal Highway Administration has been working with 19 state and regional partners and other federal agencies to test approaches for assessing local transportation infrastructure vulnerability, and for improving resilience to climate change and extreme weather events.

The President released his climate change plan in June. DOT has already been out in front on this, and we will continue to lead.

Through better planning, more targeted investments, improved asset management, and a host of best practices and other tools, we are working hard to protect America's transportation system from the effects of climate change. We will keep America moving forward.

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