Sound Transit wins federal grant to respond to impacts of climate change

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Partnership with UW Climate Impacts Group, WSDOT will examine long-term strategies

A Federal Transit Administration grant of $105,000 will fund efforts to study how potential impacts from climate change could challenge Sound Transit's infrastructure and operations. The University of Washington Climate Impacts Group will lead the work, building on a pilot study completed by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The Sound Transit Climate Risk Reduction Project will recommend initial strategies to anticipate and minimize climate change impacts on Sound Transit operations, assets and long-term planning. As one of seven national pilots, the project is designed to serve as a template for other agencies with similar vulnerabilities.

Scientists have documented warming trends, both global and local, and predict significant climate-related challenges for the region's transportation systems. Projections include:

  • Increases in average annual regional temperatures of about 2.0°F by the 2020s, 3.2°F by the 2040s, and 5.3°F by the 2080s in comparison to 1970-1999
  • Increases in amounts of late fall precipitation and the number of extreme precipitation events
  • Increases in the number and duration of extreme heat events
  • An increase in relative sea level of 6 to 50 inches for the Central Puget Sound region by 2100 in comparison to 1980-1999

Impacts to infrastructure could include flooding of coastal roads, railways, and subterranean tunnels; damage to rail-bed support structures, rails, and roadways due to increased flooding, landslides, and mudslides; thermal expansion of bridge expansion joints and pavement softening due to more extreme heat events; and limits on periods of construction activity due to weather conditions.

The Climate Risk Reduction Project will also provide a state-to-local testing ground for WSDOT's pilot of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) climate change vulnerability assessment methodology. In fall 2011, WSDOT completed pilot testing new approach for climate change vulnerability assessment developed by FHWA for transportation infrastructure. Sound Transit will build off WSDOT's assessment results and lessons learned to refine the approach.

While studying climate change impacts, Sound Transit continues to lead within the transit community in working to systematically identify opportunities to reduce the environmental footprint of its projects and services.

Results from the project are anticipated to be incorporated into Sound Transit's ISO 14001 certified Environmental and Sustainability Management System (ESMS). The ESMS holds the agency accountable for identifying and controlling environmental impacts, systemically setting and achieving objectives and targets. Sound Transit's initial implementation of ESMS is unique among transit agencies in its focus on capital development as well as operations and maintenance. This focus enhances the growing agency's ability to incorporate climate adaptation strategies into planning, design and construction.