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MassDOT-FHWA Pilot Project-Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Options of the Central Artery

Steven Miller, MA Department of Transportation
Tuesday, June 17 @ 2:10pm


The Central Artery is a remarkable feat of engineering that is a critical link in the regional transportation network and a vitally important asset to the City of Boston and the surrounding areas for which Boston is an economic focus. As one of the single most valuable parts of Massachusetts' infrastructure, its maintenance, protection, and enhancement are a priority to the Commonwealth. Over the more than twenty years that have passed since the genesis of the project, climate conditions have changed, and they're expected to continue to change over the course of the 21st century. In order to keep our commitment to the people of the Commonwealth to preserve and protect their public assets, it is vital that these new conditions be considered and adapted to.

The presentation will provide an update to the audience on MassDOT’s efforts concerning climate impacts and adaptive capacity of the Central Artery for present day conditions, as well as for projected climate change scenarios in the middle and late 21st century. MassDOT is developing a technically advanced, leading-edge pilot project for the Federal Highway Administration evaluating the vulnerability to sea level rise and extreme weather events for the Central Artery in Boston, MA. The project combines new systems-level vulnerability assessment and evaluated adaptation options to reduce risk to specific assets. The project also is geared towards integrating climate change vulnerability into MassDOT and FHWA engineering practices. A highly resolved, numerical processes model (ADCIRC tightly coupled with SWAN) was developed to assess the combined impact of sea level rise, storm events (tropical and extra-tropical), winds, tides, and waves. Results from the model are being used to assess risk for various assets throughout the project domain, and to subsequently investigate adaptation options to reduce the identified vulnerabilities and to establish an emergency response plan for tunnel protection and/or shutdown. The investigation also intends included a cost benefit analysis, which will assist MassDOT select the most efficient method of protecting valuable existing assets against today’s weather events and future climate impacts.

The project is currently underway, but not scheduled to be completed until the third quarter of 2014. Another goal of this project is to integrate climate change science and modeling with transportation engineering and planning. Climate Change science has been primarily the responsibility of academic institutions and scientists, while infrastructure planning and design has been the responsibility of planners and engineers. These two groups can have vastly different ways of problem solving using different assumptions and analysis that generated different expectations for outcomes, making communication between the disciplines difficult. And yet the gap between climate science and infrastructure design and planning must be bridged in order to prepare valuable assets for the current and future impacts of climate change. With this presentation, MassDOT will discuss progress in bringing Climate Change science at the local level together with engineering and planning.