The Norman Transcript

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November 23, 2012

Extreme weather tough on transportation system

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Record-smashing heat from Colorado to Virginia last summer caused train tracks to bend and highway pavement to buckle. A US Airways jet was delayed at Washington’s Reagan National Airport after its wheels got stuck in a soft spot in the tarmac.

Dallas had more than five weeks of consecutive 100 degree-plus high temperatures. “That puts stress on pavements that previously we didn’t see,” Horsley said.

States and cities are trying to come to terms with what the change means to them and how they can prepare for it. Transportation engineers build highways and bridges to last 50 or even 100 years. Now they are reconsidering how to do that, or even whether they can, with so much uncertainty.

No single weather event, even a storm like Sandy, can be ascribed with certainty to climate change, according to scientists. But the increasing severity of extreme events fits with the kind of changing climate conditions that scientists have observed.

For example, several climate scientists say sea level along New York and much of the Northeast is about a foot higher than a century ago, mostly because of man-made global warming, and that added significantly to the damage when Sandy hit.

Making transportation infrastructure more resilient will be expensive, and the bill would come at a particularly difficult time. Aging highways, bridges, trains and buses already are in need of repair or replacement and no longer can handle peak traffic demands. More than 140,000 bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete. The problem only will worsen as the U.S. population grows.

A congressional commission estimated that all levels of government together are spending $138 billion a year less than is needed to maintain the current system and to make modest improvements.

“The infrastructure of the nation is aging and it’s at risk because, quite frankly, we’re all not investing enough to take care of these facilities,” said Hammond, the chairwoman of the climate committee. “And now we’re facing extreme weather threats that cause us to need emergency response capabilities beyond what we’ve had in the past.”

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