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Coastal Transportation Vulnerability Assessment

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Background Information

The Coastal Transportation Vulnerability Assessment was officially kicked-off on June 3, 2015 and is a two and a half year project that involves refining and extending the Boston Harbor Flood Risk Model (BH-FRM) to account for present and future climate change impacts along the entire coastline of Massachusetts and the Islands. The Coastal Transportation Vulnerability Assessment is an expansion of the BH-FRM developed as part of Central Artery/Tunnel (CA/T) Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment, which focused on the vulnerabilities of the CA/T system. The BH-FRM has been developed and calibrated to quantify the magnitude and probabilities of flooding within the Cities of Boston and Cambridge due to present and future tropical and extra tropical storms and projected sea level rise. Using this model extension, MassDOT will be assessing the vulnerability of Massachusetts coastal transportation systems including primarily roads, bridges, and railways. This project will also develop conceptual-level protection strategies over time and by location (considering both built and natural protection strategies).

Need for the Coastal Transportation Vulnerability Assessment

Assessing coastal transportation vulnerability is crucial due to the predicted negative effects of climate change, including sea level rise, oceanic thermal expansion, ice sheet melt, and more intense storm events. Sea level rise is one of the most certain and potentially destructive impacts of climate change, increasing the vulnerability of coastlines to flood events. Global sea level rise increases by 2100 are projected to range from 0.2 meters (0.7 feet) to 2.0 meters (6.6 feet). Regional variations in sea level rise occur due to vertical land movement (uplift or subsidence), changing gravitational attraction in some ocean areas due to melting ice masses, and changes in regional ocean circulation, among others. Several recent studies suggest that the northeast U.S. (including the coastline of Massachusetts) could experience greater than average sea level rise due to changes in ocean circulation and melting ice sheets. Additionally, temperature, precipitation patterns, and storm tracks have been shifting across North America with more changes projected to continue. Although controversy still exists over the role of climate change in hurricane development, there is growing evidence in support of more intense hurricanes. For example, there has been a doubling of hurricane-related extreme storm surge events during the 20th century.

Assessment Objectives and Phases

MassDOT has identified three objectives for the Coastal Transportation Vulnerability Assessment, which include:

  • Examining the impacts of sea level rise and increased tidal and storm surge flooding on federal, state, and local roads, bridges, railways, municipal airports and supporting infrastructure
  • Developing conceptual-level protection strategies over time and by location
  • Estimating the cost of these strategies

MassDOT plans to accomplish the Coastal Transportation Vulnerability Assessment in three phases:

  • Phase 1: Pilot-scale analysis to develop methodologies and test modeling schemes.
  • Phase 2: Extension and refinement of BH-FRM to the full Massachusetts coastline. The new model will be called the Massachusetts Coastline Flood Risk Model (MC-FRM) and will be used for the regional analysis
  • Phase 3: Regional scale vulnerability analysis and conceptual adaptation strategies

Contact Information

Please contact the MassDOT Highway Environmental Services Office Project Manager Steven Miller, or call 857-368-8809 to receive more detailed information on the project.

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