William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review


Trip Pollard


Sea level rise, extreme weather events, and other problems caused or exacerbated by a changing climate present the most serious long-term threats to transportation worldwide. Recent disasters have carried a hefty price tag, and forecasts call for more frequent and more costly damage to infrastructure and disruptions of services that are central to trade, jobs, food access, national security, health, and personal mobility. It is essential to reduce greenhouse gas pollution to lessen future damage to transportation; however, even if emissions are cut drastically at this point, the impacts of a changing climate will continue for decades. As a result, efforts must be made to plan for and adapt to a changing climate in order to minimize the financial burden and severity of impacts. Such efforts, though, have lagged. Although some important steps have been taken, much remains to be done to protect and enhance the resilience of freight and passenger transportation. A host of potential policies and practices are available at the federal, state, regional, and local levels to reduce the climate risk to transportation, including assessing and retrofitting existing infrastructure, modifying design standards for new projects, promoting a broader range of transportation options, and curbing new projects that encourage development in vulnerable areas. Policies and projects should be chosen to ensure an equitable distribution of investments in adaptation measures. In addition, priority should be given to efforts that not only help adapt to a changing climate, but that simultaneously reduce the significant greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

This Article summarizes key aspects of climate change and examines the growing damage and threat to transportation. It then explores some of the efforts to begin adapting transportation to a changing climate and identifies policy steps that can reduce future damage and risk.