Assessing Criticality in Transportation Adaptation Planning
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Assessing Criticality in Transportation Adaptation Planning

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    Federal, state, and local transportation planners are considering the range of impacts that climate variability and climate changes may have on assets. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) put forth a draft conceptual model to assist transportation agencies in systematically assessing the vulnerability of transportation assets. FHWA is sponsoring pilots in 5 locations to test and refine the model. The draft model reflects considerable input from modal experts and is informed by literature reviews of climate-related risk and vulnerability analyses. However, the conceptual model is intended to be a starting point for the FHWA Climate Change Risk and Vulnerability Assessment pilots and other interested parties to begin a dialogue about the climate change vulnerability of the transportation sector. The first step in the conceptual model focuses on narrowing the universe of transportation assets to facilitate a more in-depth assessment of climate change effects (e.g., changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level rise) on a smaller subset of assets. “Criticality” in the sense of the FHWA conceptual model is not intended to reflect climate change risk; rather criticality in this context is a filter for screening the universe of assets in a particular geographic area so that the resulting list can be evaluated for exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity (the three components of vulnerability). Due to resource constraints, the multitude of climate effects with the potential to impact transportation systems, and temporal complications related to asset design life, it is recommended that agencies limit the asset list at the outset in order to ensure adequate consideration of the assets that are deemed “critical” in subsequent steps. Appropriate methods for screening transportation assets are wide-ranging and reflect the specific circumstances of the study area, the organization leading the analysis, and a host of other issues. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, this memorandum provides options and considerations for developing an appropriate criticality assessment strategy. The FHWA pilots, currently in various stages of implementation, have grappled with some of the key issues surrounding criticality. Some of these same issues have been explored in the Department of Transportation (DOT)-funded Gulf Coast Study, Phase 2 of which is being carried out in Mobile, AL. The remainder of this memorandum discusses the common challenges associated with assessing criticality; options for defining criticality and identifying scope; and applying criteria and ranking assets.
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