Climate Change: A Threat to Infrastructure

Erin Potter, Columnist

With climate change, we can expect more extreme floods and rising temperatures. Both of these can have an impact on roads, bridges and railroads. If our means of transportation are being affected by climate change, it can become very dangerous for us. Sea levels rising is the most talked about side effect of global warming. The Transportation Research Board Report in 2008 states, “Sea level rise, which climate scientists now believe to be virtually certain, in combination with expected population growth, will aggravate the situation, making housing and infrastructure in low-lying coastal areas even more vulnerable to extensive flooding and higher storm surges.”

Asphalt deterioration and rail buckling can also happen as a result of high temperatures, as well as an impact on lift-off load limits at airports with insufficient runway lengths. In addition, more thermal expansion of bridge joints and paved surfaces occur with hotter days. One example of this was in July of this year when hot weather caused two pavement failures on Interstate 94 in north Minneapolis. The Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman, Kevin Gutknecht said, “If these expansion joints are filled with road debris and things like that, then the concrete has no place to expand, and it’ll bump up against the other piece of concrete, and it can lift up.” This problem must be fixed. Traffic jams will become more common. More nighttime construction would have to be done to try to avoid traffic jams, which could prolong the construction season.

Higher wind speeds can also cause travel issues, particularly truck rollovers, and the need for stronger building materials. Also, with the current climate change trend, more frequent and intense rainstorms are projected to occur. More frequent high intensity storms may lead to significantly larger flood volumes. With this, we can expect an increase in weather-related delays and traffic disruption. More safety issues come about, like hydroplaning. Obviously, as we have seen with the recent large floods, roads can become flooded, causing major issues. Flooding is one of the deadliest natural disasters, mainly due to the fact that people underestimate the amount of water on roads. Culverts can collapse, which happened on Interstate 88 during the flood in 2006, which resulted in two deaths. We should pay attention to how our world is being affected, as it can be the difference between life or death in some cases.

The infrastructure must be maintained and monitored. Fixing or redesigning structures to adapt to climate change can be very costly and that money is coming out of taxpayers’ pockets. We should think about how climate change is impacting our surroundings. I, for one, am not too pleased with road closures, traffic jams and construction. These things can happen a lot more often with climate change and we should be aware of it.

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