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Climate Change - Adapting and Preparing

Building a more resilient and sustainable transportation system is key to keeping Washington infrastructure safe and reliable. It supports the state's economy, communities and environment.

US 101 flooding
Sudden flooding like this on US 101 near Lake Crescent in December 2007 often is expensive and difficult to control on vulnerable roadways.

Skagit River Basin
climate-risk study results
Skagit Basin results map
click to enlarge

Drilled shaft bridges like this one on I-90 near Gold Creek make those structures more resistant to high-velocity flooding.

Protecting investments

Maintaining and preserving roads, bridges and other transportation facilities has always been a priority at WSDOT. Maintenance crews work hard to keep roads open during storms, floods, mudslides and snowstorms. Engineering teams examine project sites for environmental conditions. Materials experts analyze pavement mixtures to make roads stronger and more resilient to the forces of wind, water and temperature.

Preserving the state's transportation system is critical to the safety of the people who use it and WSDOT's accountability to the taxpayers who pay for it.

Climate-risk assessment - Phase 2

To understand how prepared the state's transportation infrastructure is to sustain the increasing effects of climate change, WSDOT became the first DOT to complete a statewide vulnerability study. This was funded by the Federal Highway Administration and identified which roads, bridges and other facilities throughout the state are most vulnerable.

With a second federal grant in hand in summer 2013, WSDOT will begin the second phase of this climate-risk reduction study -- Preparing Interstate and State Routes in the Skagit River Basin.

Phase 2 invests $267,600 in federal highway funds to focus on an area of the state identified in the Phase-1 study as highly vulnerable to extreme flooding. The study area includes sections of I-5 and Skagit County. The grant supports WSDOT planners and hydraulics experts in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Skagit County to recommend solutions that address corridor flooding and other hazards in the Skagit River Basin.

Phase-1 study findings

According to findings in WSDOT's Climate Impacts Vulnerability Assessment report (pdf 5.5 mb), climate change will intensify the threats that extreme weather events already pose to certain roads, bridges and ferry terminals. WSDOT found that most newer roads and bridges appear resilient. The results are summarized in this folio (pdf 1.2 mb).

WSDOT uses the results from the first pilot to examine potential risks and develop efficient, effective adaptation methods.

Guidance for project teams

Since 2008, all WSDOT NEPA Environmental Impact Statements and Environmental Assessments have disclosed project-level GHG emissions and described potential climate threats. Prior studies combined topics of GHG and climate impacts. Based on feedback from WSDOT's project teams, the 2013 guidance is now separated and developed as two companion documents.

WSDOT’s work is supported by state and federal policy directives. In June 2011, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood directed federal transportation agencies to consider climate change impacts on current systems and future investments and support state transportation agencies as they do the same.