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Federal Climate Change Grants Fund Data-Driven Resiliency

Eighty transportation projects will receive nearly $830 million from a discretionary program that aims to improve resistance to extreme weather. Some state and local initiatives will use tools and data-driven analysis to harden infrastructure.

A burned-out forest
Extreme fires leave forests struggling to recover in a warming world. (Photo: Mark Kreider)
Dozens of transportation initiatives aimed at improving resiliency amid a changing climate — and several that will involve various forms of technology — are receiving federal funding.

Eighty projects were awarded nearly $830 million as part of the Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) Discretionary Grant Program, which is part of the larger Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The projects, located in 37 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands, are viewed as resiliency efforts to shore up surface transportation assets in the face of extreme weather events, resulting from human-caused climate change, a White House official said.

“Today’s announcement really flows from the president’s broad vision here, which recognizes that climate change isn’t a scientific abstraction or an intellectual conversation. It’s a lived reality in communities across the country. It’s a material risk today to our economy and to businesses, and the well-being of the American people,” said Ali Zaidi, White House national climate advisor, speaking Wednesday on a call with reporters. “And we see it manifest in extreme heat, in drought, and in wildfires, and floods, and hurricanes, creating real challenges and vectors of risk to the way we live our lives.”

The projects include three endeavors where data will play a role:

  • In Alaska, the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska will receive more than $2.9 million to fortify roads, ports, and transportation infrastructure. In part, the money will go toward doing a vulnerability assessment, developing data and tools, and evaluating ways to do “nature-based infrastructure enhancement.”
  • In Oregon, the Lane Council of Governments will receive more than $5.3 million to do an “equity-focused, data-driven” Resilience Improvement Plan evaluating and addressing multimodal transportation network weather and emergency vulnerabilities. The project includes the cities of Eugene, Springfield, and Coburg.
  • In Virginia, the state Department of Transportation will receive more than $5.4 million to install a weather and traffic monitoring system to make emergency evacuations easier during extreme weather. It will include flood sensors, stream gauges, and traffic cameras to “promote data-driven decisions in hazardous conditions.”
Elsewhere, several projects will feature tools and analytics:

  • Orange County, Fla., will receive $1 million to build a Real-Time Flood Predictive Model (RFPM) tool to do a better job of forecasting flooding up to 72 hours before storms and hurricanes.
  • The Atlanta Regional Commission will receive $1.5 million to do a Resilience Improvement Plan for metro Atlanta — including creating a flood risk tool to help identify transportation projects vulnerable to flooding.
  • The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments will receive $900,000 for a Resilience Improvement Plan to strengthen transportation resilience and safeguard against climate impacts — including by updating an existing flood risk tool.
  • The Dallas Area Rapid Transit will receive $950,000 to do a “comprehensive resilience plan to assess the vulnerabilities of the transportation network” and prioritize improvement strategies. Part of the project is a two-year license to “test a new flooding software tool that uses historical rainwater and flood information” to identify areas prone to flood, come up with better evacuation routes, and identify where drainage can be improved.
There’s also funding to improve conditions along the Mississippi River in West Memphis, Ark., where two interstate highway bridges, two freight-rail bridges and a pedestrian crossing are vulnerable to seasonal flooding. The project has been awarded more than $16.1 million to “slow the speed of water moving across the floodplain, and protect those five important transportation assets from flooding,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in comments to reporters.

The announcement Wednesday reflects the competitive discretionary portion of the program, administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation. A formula portion of the PROTECT program allocated funding to states for them to choose resilience projects. The focus, federal officials emphasized, is preparedness, not politics.

“What we’re talking about today really should not be a partisan issue. We’ve seen great partnerships with many governors, in particular, across political parties,” said Buttigieg. “A flood or a fire doesn’t care about how a community voted when it impacts a road or a rail line.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.