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Impact Estimation of the Effects of Climate Change on Freight Transportation Infrastructure

Project Summary

With climate change already taking place and expected to become more pronounced in the future, it is important to understand the potential impacts of anticipated climate change scenarios (i.e., extreme weather events) on transportation infrastructure. This was identified as a top consideration to be addressed by participants in a national summit on climate change and freight transportation infrastructure adaptation held at Vanderbilt University this past June.

In a prior phase of this research activity, using the Nashville flood of May 2010 as a case study, Vanderbilt researchers discovered that current damage assessment models, such as FEMA’s HAZUS, do not take transportation infrastructure into consideration, focusing instead on building damages at a land parcel level and sheltering requirements. It was also observed that these damage estimation models are limited in their ability to capture the full impacts of a natural disaster, both in terms of valuing the economic damages experienced by a study region and giving little or no consideration to the corresponding ecological and social impacts. As a result, the impact of climate change scenarios on transportation infrastructure, including disruption to commodity freight flow, is not well characterized and could be further developed to help inform risk management and adaptation planning decisions. This phase represents a continuation of the project including synthesis of the total costs of the May 2010 flood for comparison with damage assessment model outputs at various levels of user input.

Research Objectives

The objective of this research is to develop a methodology that would build upon an existing damage assessment model such as HAZUS to provide a more comprehensive estimate of the impacts associated with damage to the freight transportation infrastructure due to a climate change-induced event. The methodology would be applied to the Nashville flood of May 2010, purported to be a 1,000-year event, and for which the research team has access to considerable impact data. Development of this methodology would address an important unmet need for the transportation community, enabling a more realistic characterization of the impacts of extreme weather events, prioritization of transportation infrastructure that is most threatened, and assist in development and evaluation of potential adaptation strategies.

Key Research Activities

The following tasks would be performed as part of this research:

1. Run HAZUS or a comparable damage estimation model to simulate the impacts of the observed flood event as a baseline for comparison.

2. Survey a representative sample of affected residents and businesses to determine the overall economic, ecological and social impacts associated with the event, including the impacts on their ability to use the transportation infrastructure to ship/receive goods and services.

3. Develop methodology to determine impacts associated with damage to freight transportation infrastructure using model outputs and data gained from surveys.

4. Calibrate the selected impact estimation model based on a comparison of simulated and actual impacts.

5. Apply calibrated model to forecast the freight transportation impacts of future event scenarios based on anticipated climate changes.

6. Illustrate how this information can be used to identify freight transportation infrastructure that is most threatened, and in developing and evaluating potential adaptation strategies.

Desired Outcomes

The proposed research will develop an improved method for evaluating the impacts of climate-induced events affecting the freight transportation infrastructure as measured in terms of economic, ecological and social impacts. This method will be applied in a real-world setting to evaluate its utility in supporting climate-related freight transportation infrastructure adaption decisions. The research results hold promise not only for the reasons cited above, but also because of its potential for transferability to other climate-induced events and geographical settings.