Insurance and Climate Change column

Study Says Climate Change Could Lead to Rougher Roads

By | September 28, 2017

Expect some rough roads ahead.

Literally, if a new study is any indication of how U.S. roads as they are currently being built might fare in a warmer world.

A study by professors at Arizona State University shows that global warming could add billions of dollars to the nation’s transportation budget for pavement costs alone.

“Transportation infrastructure is built to last decades, but engineering protocols in the United States assume climate stationarity, which may result in accelerated degradation and, consequently, increased costs,” a study out from academics at ASU states.

According to the study, if the standard practice for material selection is not changed to adapt to rising average temperatures, it could add up to $21.8 billion to pavement costs by 2070 under the same moderate global warming scenarios that predict average global temperature increases of 1.8 C.

The standard practice for selecting materials to build roads is based on average temperatures from 1966 to 1995, which differs from averaged based on data studied from 1985 to 2014, according to Shane Underwood, an assistant professor of civil engineering at ASU and one of the authors of the study.

“That may not be applicable going forward,” Underwood said. “That’s largely a decision on expectations that the future will look at lot like the past. That uncertainty can lead to higher costs.”

While the sweltering Southwestern U.S. is often the region talked about when people think of global warming, interestingly authors found that roads there will not be affected as much as roads in the Southeast or Midwest areas of the country.

States like Florida, North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri may experience the highest cost impact per lane per mile.

Under a moderate warming scenario studied, the median impact in Florida by 2070 is expected to be $25,847 per mile per lane, in North Carolina the impact is expected to be $23,992, in Illinois the impact is expected to be $24,066 and in Missouri the impact is expected to be $24,260.

These areas may be worse hit than their Southwest counterparts because paving materials used are designed for cooler temperatures than those in the Southwest, where roads must be built to endure greater heat stresses – and the Southeast and Midwist areas are expected to experience greater temperature increases, according to Underwood.

That’s not to say increases in paving costs in the Southwest and the rest of the nation will be negligible.

The study shows that the median impact in Arizona is expected to be $8,137 per mile per lane, in California it’s expected to be $14,331, in New Mexico it’s expected to be $14,571 and in Texas it’s expected to be $9,348.

Kentucky tops the list with the highest median increase at $26,127 per mile per lane, while Connecticut is expected to experience the most modest cost increase at $2,201.

It’s easy to think that the increased costs will merely be footed by the government, but Underwood noted that eventually the buck will trickle down to taxpayers and businesses.

“These costs are going to be borne by someone,” Underwood added.

Any additional costs to maintaining or improving the U.S. transportation system will be compounded by the fact that there’s already a hefty bill facing the nation, the study notes.

The study cites estimates from the American Society of Civil Engineers that show U.S. infrastructure needs will reach $3.6 trillion in the next decade, with a large fraction of that currently unfunded.

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Latest Comments

  • October 3, 2017 at 3:48 pm
    UW says:
    Says the Birther
  • October 3, 2017 at 3:45 pm
    UW says:
    There's no climate change, the sun orbits the earth, and it's ok to beat slaves as long as you don't injure another person's slave.
  • September 29, 2017 at 3:21 pm
    Rosenblatt says:
    There goes our infrastructure's impressive D- grade (end sarcasm)
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