Global Warming to Affect U.S. Transport

Flooded roads and subways, deformed railroad tracks, and weakened bridges may be the wave of the future with continuing warming, a new study says.

Climate change will affect every type of transportation through rising sea levels, increased rainfall, and surges from more intense storms, the National Research Council said in a report released Tuesday.

Complicating matters, people continue to move into coastal areas, creating the need for more roads and services in the most vulnerable regions, the report noted.

“The time has come for transportation professionals to acknowledge and confront the challenges posed by climate change and to incorporate the most current scientific knowledge into the planning of transportation systems,” said Henry Schwartz Jr., past president and chairman of the engineering firm Sverdrup/Jacobs Civil Inc., and chairman of the committee that wrote the report.

Five Major Threats

The report cites five major areas of growing threat:

More heat waves, requiring load limits at hot-weather or high-altitude airports and causing thermal expansion of bridge joints and rail track deformities.

(Related story: Global Warming Likely Causing More Heat Waves, Scientists Say [August 1, 2006])

Rising sea levels and storm surges flooding coastal roadways, forcing evacuations, inundating airports and rail lines, flooding tunnels, and eroding bridge bases.

(Related story: Rising Seas Threaten China’s Sinking Coastal Cities [January 17, 2008])

More rainstorms delaying air and ground traffic, flooding tunnels and railways, and eroding road, bridge < recent (see>, and pipeline supports.

More frequent strong hurricanes, disrupting air and shipping service, blowing debris onto roads, and damaging buildings.

Rising arctic temperatures thawing permafrost, resulting in road, railway, and airport runway subsidence and potential pipeline failures.

(Related story: Arctic Summers Ice Free by 2040, Study Predicts [December 12, 2006])

System Not Built for Change

The nation’s transportation system was built for local conditions based on historical weather data, but those data may no longer be reliable in the face of new weather extremes, the report warns.


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