The Georgetown Climate Center released 100 new case studies Feb. 19 that detail the predicted impacts of climate change on transportation infrastructure around the country and provide recommendations on how to mitigate these effects.

The center, which is part of the Georgetown University Law Center, created the reports over the past year and a half in collaboration with law students along with the United States Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

Climate Center Adaptation Program Manager Jessica Grannis, a staff attorney at the Harrison Institute for Public Law, said that the Federal Highways Administration initiated the project to produce and compile case studies with the goal of determining possible changes to make infrastructure durable to the challenges of climate change.

Climate Center Executive Director Vicki Arroyo said the diversity of groups involved made the project enjoyable.

“We’re really pleased to partner with U.S. DOT and the Federal Highway Administration in providing this resource to states and communities across the country, and we are especially proud that our current and former Georgetown students played key roles in crafting and coordinating these case studies,” Arroyo said.

The reports highlight methods that various cities around the country are taking to mitigate the impact of climate change. Grannis said that the center chose studies that focused on tactical solutions that could be implemented while building infrastructure.

“They had to have some climate change connection … where measures were being undertaken specifically with climate change in mind, or things that would have a resiliency benefit given future climate change scenarios and focusing on things that were transportation related,” Grannis said.

To provide state transportation agencies with a breadth of possible solutions, Grannis added that the center looked into several factors of climate change impacts.

“[We looked at] what transportation agencies can do to prepare for flooding and sea level rise versus permafrost melt versus extreme heat in the Southwest, so looking for a variety of impacts in how transportation agencies were responding,” Grannis said.

According to Grannis, by making infrastructure more resilient, local governments could also protect the health of surrounding ecosystems.

“A lot of the types of strategies that you would employ to make your infrastructure more resilient to future impacts also have co-benefits that can … provide environmental benefits,” Grannis said. “Using street trees and planting vegetation along roads and highways also has environmental benefits retaining and cleaning storm water.”

The case studies noted that the costs of implementing the program would be immediately higher than the status quo, but Grannis said the changes could save transportation agencies money in the long run by making elements of the infrastructure sturdier.

“The hope is that if we are making these investments now, we’re making wise investments up front, so that those investments will be sustainable over the long term,” Grannis said.

Arroyo highlighted the proposal’s structural and economic benefits.

“Putting more time and forethought into our transportation planning to prepare for climate change would save taxpayer dollars by avoiding the need to repeatedly rebuild the same infrastructure after extreme weather events,” Arroyo said in a GULC press release. “These case studies highlight some of the most innovative activities that are happening in the transportation sector to prepare for changes we are already experiencing, including more extreme weather and rising seas.”

The climate center opened at the law center in 2009. In October, it launched an online tool with a similar function to the case studies, allowing the public to note actions taken by their state legislatures in response to climate change.

Georgetown University Student Association Secretary of Sustainability Caroline James (COL ’16) praised the climate center for leading research into solutions that prevent further degradation of surrounding ecosystems.

“What is worthy of praise about many of the suggestions about the Climate Center’s proposals is that many of them contain both adaptive measures. It is crucial that our infrastructural projects over the next 10 to 25 years address not only how we will survive effects of climate change, but also provide ways we can diminish its effects in the first place,” James said. “I’m simply glad to see that the Climate Center is being used for on-the-ground projects and research like this.”

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