North Texas Study: Rising Climate Averages & Transportation Infrastructure Damage

A North Texas study predicts high temperatures and extreme weather patterns by 2100 that will stress or severely damage transportation infrastructure.

A 2015 study by professors at the University of Texas (UT) at Arlington found that rising temperatures and anticipated extreme weather patterns over the next several decades will severely stress North Texas transportation infrastructure.

The study, funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), also took into account the expected population growth in North Texas, which is expected to reach 9.8 million by 2035.

Climate Change & Transportation Infrastructure Vulnerability

By 2100, summer highs are expected to reach 125 degrees, with the increased potential for flooding, spontaneous wildfires and other extreme weather.

Arne Winguth, lead author and associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at UT Arlington, said the changes in climate averages would have a noticeable impact on transportation infrastructure.

All of the fluctuations could lead to an increase in the type of infrastructure damage already familiar to anyone who drives on area roads -- more cracks and potholes, even buckling and melting of asphalt roadways in extreme heat, and more wildfires. Large quantities of infrastructure are located in flood-prone areas," Winguth said.

Analysis of the findings also predicts railroad tracks and airport runways will be vulnerable to deterioration and buckling.

Shocking Results Increase Transportation Infrastructure Maintenance

The findings of the study were presented to the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), which is made up of an association of counties, cities, school districts and special districts in a 16-county area which assists local governments in planning for common needs, cooperating for mutual benefit and coordinating for sound regional development.

The NCTCOG has proposed a Mobility 2040 plan that address the metropolitan population growth and its effect on the region's transportation infrastructure. It's not clear if the results of the study will have an impact on the long-term plans.

Jeffrey Neal, program director for the Congestion Management and Innovative Project Delivery Team with NCTCOG, was prepared for the study to pinpoint climate change as a primary factor to watch, but was shocked by the numbers in the end result.

We knew the study would show the likelihood of substantial temperature increases, but the scale of the increases was particularly striking. We're going to have to focus on maintenance of the existing systems, and this study will help us as we look for ways to build up our asset management program," Neal said.
More Information Needed to Determine Asset Priorities

According to Neal, more studies are needed to determine which areas are most at risk, and which need to be upgraded sooner rather than later. More in depth information is also needed to help officials determine how to move forward in planning and building new transportation infrastructure.

"Future investigations are required for a more accurate assessment of asset vulnerability that can fully incorporate regionally relevant exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity measures," he said. "This will be necessary to determine exclusive risks and impacts for individual facilities, identify potential mitigation strategies, and set action priorities through comparison of features with other needed projects."

Editor's Note: The study authors were not available at press time for further comment.

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