The affects on roadways,
bridges, and tunnels by the recent changes in the climate has scientists and engineers alarmed. The first obvious affects
have been reported in Alaska
and Northern Canada, where the once frozen permafrost and glacial ice have been melting.
Unstable foundations are causing bridge failures and roadways washing out. Scientists
contribute global warming as the cause for these changes and resulting damage. Climate changes have already been evident in
the past decade. The south eastern coast of the United States
has been hit by strong hurricanes. Violently strong storms reported only once a century are now occurring every fifty or twenty
years. Storms such as these have proven that past engineering designs are not sufficient. Heat waves and increases in unusually
hot days deteriorate thermal expansion joints on bridges and soften pavement, decreasing integrity and leading to increased
failure rates. Increased precipitation results in flooding, damaging roadbeds and tunnels. As a result, the transportation
infrastructure is becoming unstable and necessitates changes in design and planning.
Climate changes are inevitable
according to many governmental agencies. The Transportation Research Board of the National
Academies, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, and the U.S. Department of
Transportation's Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting are among the agencies publishing reports addressing
concerns about climate change and transportation. The concerns in common to all the agencies are: (1) modification of current
engineering designs to incorporate the future climate changes and their effects, (2) awareness of areas potentially susceptible
to climate changes, and (3) future changes to design and planning specifications due to climate changes.
The immediate solution would
be to bring engineers and scientists together and discuss possible solutions. These two groups generally have not shared information.
Education is an important issue in changing engineering design incorporating new scientific data relating to climate change.
Updating engineering curriculum to include affects of future climate changes is critical. The cost associated with education
will be minimal compared to the cost of retrofitting and repairing transportation infrastructure.
The serious problems due
to global climate changes are imminent. Through professional awareness and education, the effect of climate change on transportation
infrastructure will not be quite so severe.
Keywords: climate changes,
global warming, transportation infrastructure, engineering design
Change Holds Serious Implications for Transportation Infrastructure.” PE, Magazine for Professional Engineers.
19 June 2008