Climate Change Is Harming Nation’s Roadways Says Proposed Senate Bill On Infrastructure

A bipartisan bill is moving forward through the Senate. It specifically tackles the impacts of climate change on our nation’s roads and bridges. 

The legislation was introduced by a senator from the Mountain West -- Wyoming Republican, John Barrasso. It has broad bipartisan support and recently passed unanimously through the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.  

The bill authorizes $287 billion over five years from the Highway Trust Fund to maintain and repair road and bridge infrastructure across the country. It also includes language and the funding means to address the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on our roads. 

Sustainability engineer, Chris Hoehne, recently published a study in the journal, Transport Policy, looking at this very issue.  He thinks this proposed legislation is a great first step.

“We need to be able to acknowledge the fact that climate change and extreme events are going to affect our infrastructure system,” Hoehne said.

He said here in the Mountain West we have to worry about wildfires leading to more runoff and flooding damage to roads. But he said there’s also a more extreme freeze/thaw cycle that adds extra damage.

Under climate change,” Hoehne explained, “things are rapidly heating and cooling a little bit more. As a result we can see a little bit more rutting and the pavements themselves will minutely expand and condense a little bit.”

He also said warming temperatures can lead to less snow and more rain which might compound the flooding impact to roads.

The Senate bill doesn’t just focus on road maintenance. It also creates incentive programs for states to improve climate resiliency and reduce highway-related carbon emissions.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.