RPC to Help Champaign County Better Plan for Climate Change Impacts on Area Transportation and Economy

RPC to Help Champaign County Better Plan for Climate Change Impacts on Area Transportation and Economy

Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the RPC hopes to help Champaign County better plan for the impacts of climate change. Awarded as part of the Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) Discretionary Grant Program, this study of transportation infrastructure vulnerability during severe weather events should help the county adapt existing transportation to mitigate future damages, while also enhancing safety and accessibility.

The study will be coordinated by the award-winning Champaign-Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study (CUUATS), which serves as the RPC’s transportation entity and the Champaign-Urbana Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). By developing a transportation system vulnerability assessment score, the project will deliver a comprehensive and localized analysis regarding the impact of climate change on the county’s transportation system. It will include an evaluation of the impacts of various weather events on the transportation system, classify the risk levels, and identify the system’s most vulnerable elements.

“In Champaign County, challenges induced by climate change have become more frequent and severe in the past few decades,” says Rita Morocoima-Black, the RPC’s Planning and Community Development Director. “Multiple severe winter storms have impacted Champaign County in recent years, with heavy snow and strong winds forcing road closures, adding workload to municipal roadway maintenance, imposing difficulties to emergency services, and increasing the risks of weather-related crashes.”

Morocoima-Black also points out that during these storms, standing water often exceeded the capacity of the sewer system and flooded the transportation system above. This flooding caused traffic congestion, increased travel time, delayed freight services, and prevented access to essential services. Unfortunately, according to a University of Illinois study by Wuebbles and Lemke, Illinois is only expected to see a continuous increase in the frequency and intensity of heavy rain and snow events in the coming decades.

As part of their grant submission, the RPC proposed the development of a vulnerability assessment process for the regional transportation system, following a Federal Highway Administration (FHA) framework that provides a guide for vulnerability assessments and integrates climate adaptation considerations into transportation decision making. CUUATS staff will develop an assessment framework that aggregates the potential vulnerabilities of transportation infrastructures, operations, and services under various adverse weather conditions.

“The vulnerabilities determined by CUUATS will be used to generate vulnerability scores and quantify the challenges and risks posed by climate change,” Morocoima-Black explains. “This scoring system should significantly assist planners and engineers in understanding the impacts of adverse weather conditions.” The final phase of the study will be the development of an interactive web-based map application that will visualize the impact of various levels and types of adverse climate change scenarios.

CUUATS is expected to be joined in the study by planning, transportation, emergency management, and law enforcement representatives from MPO member agencies (including Champaign County, the cities of Champaign and Urbana, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, and the University of Illinois), as well as the FHWA (Illinois Division), the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency, and many others.

The RPC submitted the grant application for the study to USDOT in August 2023 and were notified in May 2024 that $380,000 in funding had been awarded. The RPC is one of only two Illinois organizations and one of only 80 organizations nationally to receive grant funding under the PROTECT Discretionary Grant Program.