Climate Change

Increasing temperatures, larger wildfires, heavier rain storms, and rising sea levels and storm surges associated with climate change are posing a significant risk to our natural and human resources and to the State’s transportation infrastructure.

The Climate Change Branch in Caltrans’ Division of Transportation Planning is responsible for overseeing the development, coordination, and implementation of climate change policies in all aspects of the Department’s decision making. It serves as a resource for technical assistance, training, information exchange, and partnership-building opportunities. 

Caltrans’ climate change efforts are twofold 1) create and maintain sustainable practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation operations and projects, and 2) Implement adaptation measures to increase the resilience of the State Highway System to climate impacts and address vulnerabilities.    

Benefits of climate change mitigation and adaptation include:

  • Lower Greenhouse Gas and Pollutant Emissions
  • Longer Service Life of Transportation Assets
  • Reduced Costs and Need for Weather-related Maintenance
  • Improved Safety for All Users
  • Improved Ecosystem Resiliency and Health

Climate Change Highlights

Vulnerability Assessments

About Vulnerability Assessments

Caltrans is conducting Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments to identify segments of the State Highway System vulnerable to climate change impacts including precipitation, temperature, wildfire, storm surge, and sea level rise. 

The climate change data were developed in coordination with climate change scientists and experts at Federal, State, and regional organizations at the forefront of climate science. 

The results of the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments will be used to guide analysis of at-risk assets and develop adaptation plans to reduce the likelihood of damage to the State Highway System, thereby allowing Caltrans to both reduce the costs of storm damage, and to provide transportation that meets the needs of all Californians.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction

Caltrans is focused on reducing greenhouse gases emissions associated both with Caltrans’ business operations and the State transportation system at-large to mitigate the scale and speed of climate change. The Climate Change Branch coordinates with all Caltrans’ functions to develop policies, plans, and projects which support the increased development of pedestrian, bicycle, transit, and alternative-fuel vehicle infrastructure. The Branch also produces an annual greenhouse gas report to identify progress in reducing the emissions from Caltrans’ business operations.

Climate Adaptation

The Climate Change Branch identifies climate risks and develops adaptation strategies, in concert with asset managers, to protect the traveling public and transportation infrastructure. As climate change increasingly impacts the State Highway System, the Branch is engaged in creating adaptive design strategies including “natural infrastructure”, risk-based management plans, and opportunities to develop solutions in concert with local and regional organizations.

Possible impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on the transportation system in California

California's transportation system extends through deserts, mountains, coastal areas and floodplains and will therefore experience a range of impacts as the climate changes.  Climate change has many potential effects to our transportation networks:

  • Intense storms may cause flooding of roadways and washout of transportation infrastructure.
  • Sea level rise is already affecting some of California's roads and bridges by undermining (scouring) the supports.  Roads along the coast are also vulnerable to damage from flooding.
  • As wildfires increase, slopes near transportation networks can become more unstable and prone to landslides during rainstorms.
  • Higher temperatures and longer heat spells will likely increase the buckling and rutting of roads, warping of rails, and difficulty in maintaining and constructing roads during the day.
  • Sea ports and low lying airports (San Francisco, Oakland, and San Diego) are also susceptible to sea level rise associated with the warming climate.  Many ports and airports have begun taking action to protect against sea level rise by strengthening their barriers.

What is Caltrans doing in response to climate change and extreme weather events?

At Caltrans, we are focused on doing our part to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from our operations, and to adapt to the changing climate to ensure that the State Highway System is safe for the traveling public.  In 2013, Caltrans released "Caltrans Activities to Address Climate Change - Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Adapting to Impacts" – a report that highlights Caltrans' statewide climate change efforts. 

Caltrans recently completed a vulnerability assessment in District 4 (San Francisco Bay Area) and will assess the remaining districts by 2018 (see above).  These assessments identify the sections of the highway system at highest risk to extreme weather events related to climate change.  

Using the results of the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments, Caltrans will prioritize sections of the highway system for adaptation planning and strengthening.  In addition, Caltrans engineers have already begun incorporating more resilient designs for long-life projects in anticipation of increased future climate stressors.  These actions will help Caltrans to reduce maintenance costs and will keep the State Highway System functioning effectively and efficiently. 

Reports

Grants

Caltrans is pleased to announce the release of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019-20 Caltrans Transportation Planning Grant awards. A statewide total of 198 grant applications were received and requested approximately $62 million for: Sustainable Communities Competitive, Strategic Partnerships (including transit), and the third and final year of Adaptation Planning. Of these applications, 84 transportation planning projects were selected for grant awards, totaling approximately $27.8 million. Award and Non-Award lists for each grant are provided below. In addition, Metropolitan Planning Organizations will receive $12.5 million in Sustainable Communities Formula grants to further their Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy. Grant applicants are encouraged to contact Caltrans district staff to request feedback for unsuccessful applications and receive technical assistance with application development. It is envisioned that these planning grants will provide much needed funding to support regional sustainable communities strategies and ultimately achieve the State's greenhouse gas reductions targets of 40 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 2050, respectively.