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March 2010
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How Climate will Change Transportation: Part 2

To continue from the other day, our warming climate will drastically change how we design highway infrastructure. Cindy Burbank then took over the presentation. Her presentation highlighted 5 main topics

  1. Climate change science, sources and trends
  2. The importance of climate change to the state DOTs
  3. Strategies to reduce GHG emissions from transportation
  4. Climate adaptation for Transportation Agencies
  5. Climate legislation and policy

Burbanks’s presentation began by discussing the unequivocal evidence of global warming, increased GHG emissions and the effect of humans on the rising levels of GHG’s. I won’t get into that much here. Although she agreed that there is some science out there disqualifying climate change, the science behind human effects on climate change is overwhelming. Her presentation on climate science was quite good and if you have a few minutes go through pages 12 to 18 of her slides.

What I thought was more interesting were her findings on climate change and its effects on DOTs.

The Three-Part Challenge to State DOTs

  1. Reduce transportation GHG’s: by as much as 60-80% by 2050
  2. Adapt transportation infrastructure: most importantly to severe storms, but also rising sea levels, high temperatures and flooding
  3. Find a new revenue stream: one based on low carbon fuels

In the US highway vehicles = 82% of Transportation CO2 emissions, 23% of total US CO2 emission

The Economist vs. Political Debate

Burbank is an economist and argued that GHG reduction should be done as cost effectively as possible. She stated that the evidence supports that an 80% reduction in GHG’s in transportation maybe more costly in some sectors than others. i.e. From an economic perspective transportation targets should probably be lower

BUT the political reality is that each sector will have to contribute its ‘fair share.’ Therefore the DOTs will likely be forced to achieve a reduction of GHG’s of 60-80% from current levels

Initially we thought of reduction strategies in terms of a 3 legged stool, which included vehicles, fuels and vehicle miles traveled (VMT). That has known grown to a five legged stool to include Operating Efficiency and Construction, Maintenance and Agency Operations. Brown notes that a 50% cut in GHG/mile is feasible from conventional technologies and biofuels by 2020-2030 (slide 25 has some worldwide GHG rates).

“In the long term, carbon free road transport fuel is the only way to achieve an 80-90% reduction in emissions.’ Although the number of light duty vehicles in the developed world (OCED) will not dramatically increase over the next few decades, those in the developing world (non-OCED) will dramatically increase. We have to decarbonizes fuel because of their increased use of light duty vehicles.

To further reduce the carbon footprint of transportation the DOTs have to starting thinking about pricing schemes. As Burbank says “Without price signals, trying to reduce GHG is swimming upstream.” Pricing will encourage consumer purchase of lower carbon vehicles/fuels, business Investment in low-GHG technology, decreased VMT, Eco-driving
and more efficient land use.

And the pricing tools already exist; auto ‘feebates,’ carbon/fuel prices, PAYD insurance (Pay-as-you-Drive, i.e. by km/annum), mileage fees, increased parking pricing, and congestion Pricing (just like in London and Singapore)

Alongside pricing tools government’s will have to employ strategies to reduce GHG in light duty vehicles by 10-20%. These can include:

  • Managing speed (35-55 MPH/56-88 KPH is optimal)
  • Speed limits/enforcement (reduce fuel use by 2-4%)
  • Eliminating bottlenecks
  • “Active’ Traffic Management to smooth traffic flow
  • Improving signal timing (could reduce 1.315 MMT CO2/yr)
  • Roundabouts
  • Reducing Car and Truck Idling
  • Work zone management to smooth flow
  • Encourage eco-driving

Strategies to reduce GHG’s in our vehicles and fuels will not be enough. It will take a coordination of strategies for Construction, Maintenance and Agency Operations that will help to decrease GHG emissions. Some examples that governments can employ:   LED traffic lights, low carbon pavement, energy-efficient buildings (i.e LEED certified), solar panels along the right of way, alternative fuels and hybrid vehicles in agency fleets, and alternative fuel and hybrid buses.

Why do Agencies need to plan for Adaptation?:

Climate change is a reality that transportation agencies need to deal with . Those that are proactive will be the ones that spend less money over the long run.


Comment from Lesley LEED AP
Time March 5, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Most people probably wouldn’t equate climate change to transportation change, but I think you bring up some good points. Obviously we must watch our emissions and the points you listed will help us do so. Adapting the highway infrastructure is very important. As difficult as it is, these infrastructures must change with everything else or we will have major problems!