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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Climate Change Adaptation Guide for Transportation Systems Management, Operations, and Maintenance

Appendix C. Future Research Needs

This guide begins to lay out how climate change will impact TSMO and maintenance and provides actionable steps that practitioners can take to prepare their programs; however, there are still many topics that require additional research and development. In order to identify the remaining gaps in knowledge, the following table presents existing needs in TSMO and maintenance capabilities to address climate change, the actions that need to be undertaken to move toward a climate resilient program, and the research that remains to be completed to allow DOTs to take informed actions to close the gaps.

Table 11. Inventory of Gaps in TSMO and Maintenance Capabilities to Address Climate Change and Future Research Needs.
Gap Category Gap Actions Toward a Climate-Resilient Program Future Research Needs
Business Processes DOTs often do not track the costs of maintenance or damage related to weather events, which limits their ability to understand changing costs over time (e.g., related to repeated repairs due to recurring impacts). Track the reason for damage and the cost of repair, and incorporate that information (e.g., Winter Severity Indices) into budgeting processes. Guide for integrating data tracking into asset management systems and their routine procedures.
DOTs rely on historic weather data in their decision making. They do not have sufficient long-range (1-3 months or 1-3 years) meteorological forecasts to use in their budget setting process. They face both a lack of data in addition to a lack of understanding of how to use uncertain climate projections in decision  making. Consider potential future climatic conditions (and associated uncertainty) when setting TSMO and maintenance budgets and workforce planning.
  • Enhanced metrological forecasts that account for local weather variations (e.g., El Niño's) and global climate change. Projections in the 1-3 year time frame would be helpful in informing budget setting processes.
  • Develop decision support tools that better incorporate probabilistic information (i.e., a computer-based approach).
  • Develop training materials on how to interpret probabilistic information (i.e., a human-based approach).
DOT weather maintenance budgets are frequently insufficient to allow for the advanced preparation for extreme events such as investing in equipment, investing in labor, and stockpiling materials and supplies (e.g., culverts) prior to a damaging event; however, after extreme events, supply chains are frequently disrupted, materials may be in short supply, and the rushed nature of ordering after an emergency can increase costs. This results in delays in repairing and reopening  roadways. Have sufficient resources to prepare in advance for the coming season in terms of labor, equipment, and materials. Stockpile extreme weather response materials and supplies in advance of extreme events. Redistribute materials prior to an extreme weather event to ensure efficient access to needed supplies. Methods for quantifying the benefit of increased preparedness and the costs associated with delayed repairs.
DOT personnel are constrained in their ability to justify increases in current budgets, despite potential savings over time. They have limited information and tools to determine the long-term cost effectiveness of actively investing in resiliency during routine maintenance versus responding after issues  arise. Consider the life-cycle cost effectiveness of resiliency investments in budgeting and design. Use asset management systems to track relevant information to inform decision-making over   time. Methods for quantifying the benefit of increased preparedness and the costs associated with delayed repairs.
DOT TSMO programs traditionally focus on improving daily operations (e.g., managing recurrent delay) rather than proactively developing systems and protocols for managing extreme weather events. They are unaware of how adapting TSMO and maintenance to climate change differs from (and is linked to) routine preparation for extreme weather  events Link climate change considerations to asset management  systems and use a strategic approach to prioritize investments between improving operations on the average day and improving operations during extreme weather events. Additionally, prioritize investments and changes in practices that benefit both the near and short term. A framework for prioritizing investments that includes short-term and long-term needs.
Systems and Technology Many DOTs have significant gaps in coverage of weather and road weather conditions. This makes it difficult to make informed decisions during extreme weather events. Use a combination of on-the-ground staff (and potentially citizens), sensors, and mobile technology to gain comprehensive coverage of real-time weather and roadway  conditions. Viability of conducting real-time data mining from social media websites to inform immediate operations responses and longer-term planning.
Many DOTs optimize their signal timing and other TSMO tools for managing recurrent delay rather than managing extreme weather events.  While this approach is effective for increasing reliability, it might not be the best approach for using these tools to increase resiliency to weather events. Take full advantage of TSMO technologies both during daily recurrent traffic conditions as well as during extreme weather events. Additional research on the adaptability of specific technologies and systems.
DOTs need a projection period of more than a few days to fully prepare a response to a weather event. Existing tools (e.g., the MDSS program) are available only for winter weather and currently only project weather conditions 2 to 3 days out (and have limited geographic scope). Use MDSS or other existing tools to run a series of hypothetical future storm events in order to inform operational planning exercises. Use detailed road weather projections to project further out in order to inform an event-specific staging and response. Enhancements and geographic expansion of the MDSS  program.
Practitioners other than winter maintenance managers do not have decision support systems in place to manage the system based on near-term or longer-term weather. Develop MDSS systems that cover weather events such has floods and heat waves. Enhancements and geographic expansion of the MDSS  program.
DOTs are unaware of how they could adapt their practices and technology to respond to climate change. Review a wide range of potential adaptation options and best practices in order to identify priority actions, especially those that may offer co-benefits. DOTs need a database of potential adaptation activities and best practices for consideration to help understand the range of options. While we can begin to provide these list of options, future research will need to develop implementation time frames, partners, co- benefits, and cost of implementation  assessments.
Performance Measurement Existing definitions of risk tolerance and the acceptable level of operational performance do not account for the potential impacts of climate change. It may become more difficult to meet existing performance measures and targets with a changing climate. Revisit performance measures on a regular basis and, in light of climate change and budgets, revise the measures to accurately reflect achievable levels of service. Risk tolerance levels and performance standards would take into account changes in climate and the potential impact on their ability to maintain historical levels of service. Develop a framework for assessing how climate change may impact agencies ability to manage the projected risks posed by severe weather within established levels of risk tolerance (i.e., when will traditional tactics used for routine events be insufficient?). Include how to assess the agency's current capability to handle threats.
Culture TSMO, maintenance, and emergency management staff is unaware of how climate change may impact their operations, both in the near term and the future. There is also inconsistent agreement among State DOTs that climate change is a real threat that needs to be integrated into decision making. Understand climate sensitive decisions, the impacts of climate change (both primary and secondary/cascading impacts), and the need to proactively respond to this threat would be present throughout the organization. Continued research on the impacts of climate change on specific elements of TSMO programs. Further documentation of climate- sensitive TSMO and maintenance decisions.
DOTs have difficulty managing expectations from the public for ever-clear roads, which is in direct conflict with decreasing State funding and more frequent extreme weather events. Engage in honest and continued dialogue with the public about funding shortfalls, climate change, and prioritizations as well as realistic expectations for road clearance and level of service. Best practices on community engagement and   discussion.
DOTs are historically risk averse and do not want to change practices until they are required to (as a result of breakdowns in the existing system). Consider climate change impacts throughout TSMO and maintenance practices in order to minimize risk and vulnerability to weather events. Continue to identify barriers to and best practices for changing DOT culture to accept the need for climate resilience.
Organization and Workforce Information is not always full reported as to where problems repeatedly arise and why. This lack of information sharing limits the ability of TSMO, maintenance, and emergency management staff to optimize their response to climate change. Share data and qualitative lessons learned on frequent problem areas and proposed actions to mitigate these issues. Potential citizen reporting technology development for tracking persistent issues (e.g., nuisance  flooding).
DOT staff currently report that they are overburdened by current job responsibilities and have limited to no capacity or training to take on additional responsibilities, such as climate change risk and vulnerability assessments and developing adaptation  responses. Ensure all TSMO, maintenance, and emergency management staff understands how climate change and extreme weather affect their day-to-day ability to efficiently complete their jobs. With this understanding should come internal initiative to increase resiliency to these events. Outline of approaches to mainstreaming climate change into TSMO and maintenance practices.
DOT staff does not necessarily have the skill sets necessary to incorporate climate change into day-to-day  operations. Add new job classifications to the workforce, such as meteorologists, hybrid engineer/environmentalist, people from other hybrid disciplines, TSMO managers, risk experts, emergency managers with both a transportation/emergency management background, etc. Steps needed to develop a workforce that can address external factors −whether climate change or something else that affects the operational component. With a range of skill sets needed, how to build and maintain a team of diverse capabilities. Develop wiring diagrams to show the connected responsibilities among offices.
In addition to not tracking the quantitative costs of responding to extreme weather events, most DOTs also do not record qualitative information that comes from years of professional staff experience. This makes it hard to retain historic, qualitative information when staff retire or move on. Regularly coordinate between on-the-ground staff and other departments to discuss "hot spot" areas and inform investment decisions based on past performance. Guidebook on succession planning.
Collaboration Most DOTs do not coordinate emergency response plans with private companies, resulting in increased public frustration and lack of essential supplies during extreme weather events (which may become a more frequent concern under a changing climate and, thus, a more frequent issue). Coordinate emergency plans with banks, gasoline providers, inter-regional motor coach carriers (e.g. Greyhound, Peter Pan), and other private sector companies to ensure access to critical needs during and following a severe weather event. Develop best practices for public/private coordination on emergency plans.
DOTs are not used to or comfortable collaborating with climate scientists to obtain information on climate change projections and discussing and determining how to integrate this data and the inherent uncertainty into planning and practices. Collaborate with climate scientists to understand the types of uncertainty in climate change modeling and the range of uncertainty compared to other modeled transportation assumptions (e.g., future land use patterns, traffic patterns) and then integrate the data into practice. Develop comparisons between uncertainty in climate modeling and uncertainty in other transportation practices.
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