In 2012, a hurricane churned its way up the Atlantic, merged with another storm, turned toward the shoreline and made landfall in the New York region — an event with devastating effects on property and infrastructure, including transit systems. The transportation system of metropolitan New York was significantly impacted, and the after effects of Superstorm Sandy — including New York City subway and Amtrak rail tunnels damaged by flooding — are still being addressed.
Consider impacts, reconsider design
Sandy is just one of a number of extreme weather events across the U.S. in the past decade that has resulted in significant damage to transportation infrastructure. These events have become a part of the history of transit and transportation disruptions in the U.S. They provide an opportunity to consider the conditions that led to such damage and left communities damaged for extended periods, and without the transit service so critical to a functioning and effective community. Transportation design professionals need to reflect on and consider the cause of these impacts not only from the perspective of the weather events that caused them, but also from the perspective of how these storms have such a disruptive effect on transportation systems, and whether the design of such systems needs to be reconsidered to ensure future system resiliency. Now is the time to reconsider how system and project decisions are made and how we can assure they will withstand future climatic conditions.
This dialogue on risk and design becomes more complex when considering the expected effects of climate change — with warming global temperatures expected to increase the number and volatility of weather systems, bringing more rain and flooding, and increasing the risk of more damaging coastal storms. The growing political acceptance of a changing future climate, based partly on a large volume of research on the science of climate change, is increasing the interest in designs that consider not just current environmental conditions, but also the potential increasing risks associated with changing climate conditions.