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Sea Level Rise

Sea Level Rise

The impacts from sea level rise and storm surge, extreme weather events, precipitation changes, higher temperatures and heat waves, Arctic warming, and other climatic changes are affecting the reliability and capacity of the U.S. transportation system.  Sea level rise, coupled with storm surge, will continue to increase the risk of major coastal impacts on transportation infrastructure, including both temporary and permanent flooding of airports, ports and harbors, rail lines, transit facilities, and bridges. 

Extreme flooding events currently disrupt transportation networks and will likely continue as sea levels are expected to rise at an accelerated pace for many coastal regions, such as Hampton Roads.  Hampton Roads, second only to New Orleans in terms of vulnerability to sea level rise in the United States, is seeing more frequent storm surges and higher tides than before.  Based on past storm events, Hampton Roads’ east coast location makes it prone to significant storm surges about every four to five years.

Sea level rise will result in significant impacts to coastal regions. Some areas are already experiencing permanent inundation, while other areas are seeing more frequent flooding.  As sea levels continue to rise, some areas that have not seen flooding will start to experience it which will have major infrastructure impacts.

Repetitive flooding at critical transportation facilities can severely impact travel and hurt regional and local economies.  When streets are impassable during and after flooding events, it often results in damages to personal property and missed work time, which has a crippling effect on communities.

Climate change impacts will increase the total costs to regional transportation systems and their users, but these impacts can be reduced through rerouting, mode change, and a wide range of adaptive actions.  A critical step in devising adaptation plan is to assess vulnerabilities.

The HRTPO is committed—through partnerships and regional studies—to mitigating the impacts of sea level rise/storm surge on roadway infrastructure in Hampton Roads.

Regional Involvement in Sea Level Rise

 

HRTPO Studies

Hampton Roads Military Transportation Needs Study: Roadways Serving the Military and Sea Level Rise/Storm Surge (July 2013)

Cover image for Hampton Roads Military Transportation Needs Study: Roadways Serving the Military and Sea Level Rise/Storm Surge

The Hampton Roads region contains one of the largest natural harbors in the world, making the region an attractive location for military facilities.  This coastal location also makes many of these military facilities susceptible to projected relative sea level rise and potential storm surge threats, impacting overall defense readiness.  The threat of flooding is a concern for the military in the region since military operations require a transportation network that moves cargo and personnel quickly and safely.

The impacts of relative sea level rise and storm surge have been recognized along the southeast coast for many years, particularly for low-lying communities such as Hampton Roads, Virginia.  National, state, regional, and local organizations have participated (or are currently participating) in initiatives that address this pressing issue in order to raise awareness and develop potential solutions.  This study (phase three) builds on previous studies and related work to estimate the relative sea level rise and potential storm surge threats to the “Roadways Serving the Military” network established in phase one of the Hampton Roads Military Transportation Needs Study.  In the first phase, HRTPO staff reviewed the “Roadways Serving the Military” to determine deficient locations, such as congested segments, deficient bridges, and inadequate geometrics.  This third phase of the study continues the work in phase one by determining flooding-based deficient locations along the roadway network.  It expands upon the work and methodologies developed by the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), by identifying military roadway segments vulnerable to submergence.  Additionally, submergence of other local roadways that provide access to and from the “Roadways Serving the Military” which may be vulnerable to flooding have been identified.

Sea Level Rise and Storm Surge Impacts to Roadways in Hampton Roads (May 2016)

Cover image for Sea Level Rise and Storm Surge Impacts to Roadways in Hampton Roads

Repetitive flooding on roadways and at critical transportation facilities can severely impact travel and hurt regional and local economies.  When streets are impassable during and after flooding events, it often results in damages to personal property and missed work time, which has a crippling effect on communities.  For this reason, it is imperative for Hampton Roads to plan for climate change impacts to transportation infrastructure and to develop adaptation strategies for those facilities.  It is also important to consider the latest projections in sea level rise and storm surge when the region builds new roadway infrastructure or rebuilds existing roadway infrastructure.

While it is important to plan and assess potential climate-based vulnerabilities to all land, air, and marine transportation systems, this study focuses on roadways within the Hampton Roads Metropolitan Planning Area (MPA), including bridges and tunnels.  HRTPO staff has partnered with Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) staff to conduct a comprehensive GIS-based flooding vulnerability analysis for potential sea level rise and storm surge impacts to regional roadways by 2045—next Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) horizon year. 

Prior to the flooding vulnerability analysis, this study provides background information, including sea level rise/storm surge definitions and trends for the Hampton Roads region. Further, it provides a brief description of recent studies and work related to climate change and discusses potential impacts of sea level rise and storm surge on roadway infrastructure.

The analyses within this study are intended to be a “high level” planning tool to screen regional roadway assets for vulnerability to flooding under three sea level rise and storm surge scenarios for the next long-range transportation planning horizon.  The HRTPO Board can use these results by choosing projects for currently vulnerable roads in the HRTPO’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and LRTP (2040). 

Because of the disconnect between the timeframe of most metropolitan long-range transportation plans (20-25 years) and the 50-80 year timeframe associated with most climate change adaptation planning , the results in this study may also be used as a tool for developing future adaptation strategies beyond 2045.  Further comprehensive assessment of individual roadways will be necessary for determining the degree of vulnerability of specific assets in order to set future priorities to protect them.

This report includes a methodology for incorporating sea level rise and storm surge impacts to roadways into the HRTPO Long-Range Transportation Plan Project Prioritization Tool.  Furthermore, it contains adaptation strategies, design considerations, best practices, and lessons learned from other coastal regions (e.g. Gulf Coast) that are also vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge.

Click Here to view an interactive map of the results.

Other Studies

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has released the final version of the report, Hampton Roads Climate Impact Quantification Initiative: Baseline Assessment of the Transportation Assets & Overview of Economic Analyses Useful in Quantifying Impacts.  This report was completed by Volpe, the National Transportation Systems Center, which is a research agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).  Mr. Alan Strasser, FHWA Project Coordinator and Stakeholder Liaison with the USDOT Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting, briefed TTAC on this item on September 7, 2016.  Staff of both the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) and the HRTPO will continue to coordinate and work with Volpe and USDOT on future phases.

Resources