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VDOT issues first road map for infrastructure climate resilience

a stop sign is visible in an otherwise fully flooded roadway.
Rocketts Landing flooded during November 2020. (File photo: David Streever/VPM News)

Rapid changes to the environment will endanger state and local infrastructure in the coming decades, according to a new report from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The department  released its first resilience plan that outlines how these changes — primarily increased flooding — could impact Virginians’ transportation needs and what officials will do about them.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that Virginia’s transportation network continues to move people and goods safely and efficiently for generations to come,” VDOT Commissioner Stephen Brich said in a statement.  

VDOT estimated it will take about two years to implement, but Brich said it’s “an important step for the agency."

The document follows mandates from Virginia lawmakers in recent years that make state officials consider resilience in their decision-making on a host of issues, including transportation.

Virginia adheres to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projection that predicts about 4 feet of sea level rise in Hampton Roads by 2070.

VDOT officials write that the plan is meant to provide a formal framework to incorporate lawmakers’ stated resilience priorities into transportation decisions.

Climate conditions in both coastal and inland areas “threaten the capacity to safely and efficiently move people and goods and must be addressed,” they wrote.

Storm surge and even “sunny day flooding” swamps spots in Hampton Roads like the Midtown Tunnel, for example. 

The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization has advocated for years to consider sea level rise when retrofitting or building bridges and roadways.

The objectives of VDOT’s new resilience plan are broken down into six elements:

  1. Data and research on environmental impacts, including computer modeling
  2. Partnering with federal and state agencies and public outreach
  3. Identifying at-risk infrastructure and prioritizing needs
  4. Finding resilience solutions
  5. Analyzing cost effectiveness
  6. Incorporating resilience into current funding policies

The department plans to look at options, such as investing in green infrastructure like restored wetlands and dunes, adapting bridge materials to withstand more salinity, adjusting bridges' buoyancy because of sea level rise, adding evacuation routes and more.

A new VDOT resilience committee will periodically evaluate and modify the plan to accommodate state priorities. Members also will report updates to the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

Read the original story on WHRO's website.

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