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Senate Passes Transportation Bill that Helps Prepare Infrastructure for Severe Weather

CCAP applauds the Senate passage of the transportation bill, S. 1813, also known as MAP 21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act). MAP 21, which passed with bi-partisan support (74 – 22), contains important elements to enhance the efficiency of our transportation system that will help bolster the national economy, strengthen communities and protect the environment.  The two-year bill would provide $109 billion in funding while maintaining the integrity of the Mass Transit Account. MAP-21 would launch a long-awaited performance-based framework for US transportation policy should it pass the House basically intact.

Of particular interest for this blog is a new section (33009) to enhance state and local capacity to prepare for natural disasters and extreme weather events such as heavy precipitation, storm surge, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes and extreme heat.  Under the legislation, the US Department of Transportation would issue guidance and design standards to help states, MPOs and local governments prepare for a greater frequency of extreme weather events in planning, siting, designing, and constructing transportation infrastructure. Such guidance would enhance state and local ability to assess vulnerabilities to a changing climate and examine the costs and benefits of preparedness measures. Such support would build upon the commendable efforts underway at US DOT, FHWA and FTA to help transportation practitioners prepare for extreme weather and a changing climate.

According to NOAA, severe weather in the US caused more than $50 billion in damages in 2011, a year that saw record-breaking extreme weather across the country. Already 2012 has been a challenge for many communities, from the latest intense tornados in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, to the record 15-inch rainstorm in Louisiana.  Quite often the transportation sector bears significant losses from extreme weather events. There are numerous examples of higher than usual weather-related maintenance and repair costs from all over the country in recent years. Here are just a few:

  • Rhode Island experienced losses of $1.5 billion in 2010 from the worst flooding in state history.  (C2ES)
  • Flooding in North Dakota cost $195 million in road repairs.  On the Souris River, the floods exceeded the 130-year old record for flood crests by almost 4 feet. (NY Times, June 26, 2011)
  • Vermont suffered millions in dollars of damage to transportation infrastructure from Tropical Storm Irene, according to the Agency of Natural Resources. Damage to the state highways system alone was between $175 and $250 million dollars.

Over the past decade many other states and cities have broken historical flood records or experienced multiple instances of what are still optimistically being called 500-year events. Rather than continue to be surprised and pay for repairs after the fact, agencies need support to prepare in advance. Being prepared will save money in the long-run while keeping families and communities safer and healthier.  MAP 21 would empower the Department of Transportation to take a bigger role in providing better data and a range of technical assistance directed at finding the best, most cost-effective ways to prepare transportation infrastructure for future impacts.

We encourage the House of Representatives to provide similar support for state and local preparedness planning.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Steve Winkelman

    A few people have asked me for the text of section 33008. You can find the text of the Manager’s Amendment in the March 13th Congressional Record (search on “33008″): http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2012-03-13/pdf/CREC-2012-03-13.pdf. Note that the final engrossed version isn’t out yet and could change slightly if there were any last minute changes by the leaders before the vote.

    - Steve Winkelman

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