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The climate is rapidly changing, bringing more frequent and extreme floods, droughts, and heatwaves, along with stronger hurricanes and more intense wildfires. Each year brings new record-breaking weather extremes; in the first six months of 2019, for example, a record number of U.S. counties flooded. July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded for the world as a whole (1). Climate change is also melting glaciers, reducing the amount of sea ice, and raising sea levels, bringing devastation to coastal areas. From Louisiana to Alaska, many coastal communities are forced to make difficult decisions about whether to relocate to less-vulnerable areas.

As detailed in the Fourth National Climate Assessment, these extremes pose serious threats to transportation systems, making it more difficult for these systems to provide the crucial services relied upon by individuals, communities, and other critical systems (2). There is an urgent need for decision-makers at all levels of government and in the private sector to better prepare transportation assets, systems, and workforces for a changing climate. In particular, decision-makers need better information, new tools, innovative best practices, and implementation assistance.

Last year, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) published a new edition of Critical Issues in Transportation, which identified climate change—and the need for resilience—as one of the critical issues now facing transportation (3). Critical Issues 2019 poses several key questions: how best to use climate information to improve risk-based decision-making; how to communicate adaptation successes from states and localities; how to build flexibility and adaptability into policies, designs, and standards; how to make the business case for adaptation; and how to facilitate managed retreat and discourage risky investments.

This article describes current work on building resilience to climate change impacts in which states and cities are often leading the way. It is also important to point out that, in addition to being vulnerable to climate impacts, transportation is now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Therefore, immediate action is required to reduce emissions too, with states taking the lead on this work as well.

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TR News Magazine, Issue 324, November/December 2019, 4. TR News is copyright, National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; posted with permission of the Transportation Research Board