May 15, 2013

Government Watchdog: American Roads, Bridges Vulnerable to Extreme Changes in Weather

Sens. Baucus and Whitehouse Release GAO Report Calling for Better Planning to Prepare U.S. Infrastructure for Climate Change

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) released a new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report today detailing the threats posed to the nation’s infrastructure by climate change.  The report says lack of preparation puts the economy at risk, when roads, bridges and other infrastructure fail to operate as well or as long as intended because of extreme changes in weather.  GAO calls on the federal government to make information about how to adapt infrastructure for climate change more accessible to state and local planners.

“Montana is a highway state, and we know just how important reliable transportation is to support jobs and grow our economy.  It’s time to give local officials the tools they need to build and maintain the safe, quality roads, bridges and waterways the American people deserve. Making sure our projects are built to last will also save taxpayer dollars – it’s just plain common sense,” Baucus said.

“From warming waters and rising seas, to more severe storms and floods, Rhode Island has already begun to feel the effects of climate change,” said Whitehouse.  “This report makes clear that we need to do a better job sharing information about the effects of climate change to help our local officials plan ahead.  Helpful data is already being collected, but it’s not very useful if we can’t get it into the right hands.”

GAO’s report identifies specific instances where public infrastructure is at risk, as well as examples of how adaptation efforts have helped protect assets, and what the federal government can do to make this information available and usable at the state and local level.  For example, Louisiana State Highway 1, which provides access to a port servicing 18 percent of the nation’s oil supply, is expected to be at greater risk from flooding as a result of rising sea levels.

The report examines the effects of climate change on roads and bridges, wastewater systems, and NASA facilities; analyzes whether the risks associated with climate change are being incorporated into infrastructure planning; and identifies ways to make relevant information more available and useful at the local level.

The report concludes that U.S. infrastructure is vulnerable to changes in climate, and that a lack of coordination between the sources of climate change information (e.g. government agencies and academic institutions) has made it difficult for decision makers to incorporate adaptation measures in infrastructure planning. 

Total public investment in infrastructure in America is estimated at more than $300 billion annually, making it a valuable public asset worth protecting.

Some local communities are already taking action when they can.  According to GAO, “the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District managed risks associated with more frequent extreme rainfall events by enhancing its natural systems’ ability to absorb runoff by, for instance, preserving wetlands.  This effort simultaneously expanded the sewer system’s capacity while providing other community and environmental benefits.”

The full report is available here.


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