Building Resilience and Sustainability with the BIL 

Building Resilience and Sustainability with the BIL 
With the transportation sector ripe for infrastructure improvements and environmental stewardship initiatives, the U.S Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) represents a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s transportation systems. As states prepare to secure funding from the BIL, they’ll need to understand how resilience and sustainability initiatives play a part in their long-range transportation plans.

The trans­porta­tion sector in the United States is facing a “perfect storm” of challenges. The frequency and severity of weather- and climate-related disasters has increased expo­nen­tially; in 2022, there were 18 across the United States. The rising tide of disaster has severely impacted or permanently damaged the nation’s trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture. What’s more, the trans­porta­tion sector accounts for the largest share of U.S. carbon emissions—30% of all greenhouse gases at last count—which is likely to perpetuate further climate-driven disasters and damages.

State departments of trans­porta­tion (DOTs) have an important role to play in the decar­boniza­tion efforts of our nation’s mobility networks, as well as the future-proofing of communities across the country. All DOTs must be able to “prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, or more success­fully adapt to adverse events,” according to AASHTO, a nonprofit, nonpartisan association designed to foster the development, operation, and maintenance of an integrated national trans­porta­tion system. A recent AASHTO report urged trans­porta­tion decision makers to adopt the “triple bottom line” approach to sustain­abil­ity by evaluating performance on the basis of economic, social, and envi­ron­men­tal impacts and allocating equal consid­er­a­tion to these driving forces. 

The good news is that DOTs can act today to incorporate resilience and sustain­abil­ity into the trans­porta­tion lifecycle by leveraging funding oppor­tu­ni­ties like those granted through the Bipartisan Infra­struc­ture Law (BIL).  

Billion Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2023)


What funding is available to help prioritize resilience and sustain­abil­ity?  

The PROTECT (Promoting Resilient Operations for Trans­for­ma­tive, Efficient and Cost-Saving Trans­porta­tion) formula program
is meant to support governments’ development of resilience improvement plans, community evacuation routes, and protection of at-risk costal trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture. These historic investments aim to improve the resilience of trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture, helping states and communities prepare for hazards such as wildfires, floods, storms and droughts exacerbated by climate change. 

With a combined total of $8.7 billion in funding and grants over a 5-year period, PROTECT offers eligible state DOTs, MPOs, local governments and public authorities the opportunity to fund their highway, transit and port projects via this new program. 

The Carbon Reduction Program Grant is a 5-year, $6.4 billion program created to support trans­porta­tion improve­ments that result in carbon emission reductions and develop carbon reduction strategies. Funds are admin­is­tered by the Federal Highway Admin­is­tra­tion (FHWA) and appro­pri­ated to state DOTs by formula. The BIL also requires states to develop and submit a carbon reduction plan to FHWA by November 15, 2023 and must update their approved strategy at least once every four years. 

“Local governments are now eligible for the Carbon Reduction Program—which was not the case with the FAST Act—and that opens up oppor­tu­ni­ties for local governments to go after grants,” says Ben Ritchey, CDM Smith client service leader and technical advisor for grants and funding. With the creation of the BIL, “65% of funds are now subal­lo­cated by population for local government-eligible project priorities,” he explains. 

As its name suggests, sustain­abil­ity and climate change are the two main policy drivers of the Carbon Reduction Program. Projects might include plans to support emissions reduction via multimodal access to public trans­porta­tion and active modes of transport, bus rapid transit (BRT), vehicle elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, low-carbon fuels and construc­tion materials, infra­struc­ture-based intelligent trans­porta­tion systems (ITS), nature-based carbon seques­tra­tion, rural broadband internet expansion, complete corridors, and energy-efficient lighting and traffic control devices. 

Lauren Miller Lauren Miller
By managing our client’s ability to withstand more frequent and extreme weather events, CDM Smith can protect people’s lives and preserve their livelihoods.
Melissa Harclerode Melissa Harclerode
CDM Smith’s SustainAlytics provides a data-driven approach to sustainability planning resulting in solutions that consider people, planet and profit effects and promote sustainable investments for our clients.
Ben Ritchey Ben Ritchey
Local governments are now eligible for the Carbon Reduction Program—which it was not the case with the FAST Act—and opens up opportunities for local governments to go after grants.

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Resilience and sustain­abil­ity: what’s the difference? 

Carbon  Reduction climate resiliency While often lumped together during long-range planning discussions, climate resilience and sustain­abil­ity are not the same thing. Most often, climate resilience is about managing climate impacts like acute disasters (like hurricanes) or chronic challenges (like extended drought conditions). “By managing our clients’ ability to withstand more frequent and extreme weather events, CDM Smith can protect people’s lives and preserve their livelihoods, including their homes, communities and infra­struc­ture,” says Lauren Miller, CDM Smith’s climate resilience practice leader.

Carbon Reduction SustainabilitySustain­abil­ity often refers to how current generations can conserve natural resources and protect global systems for future generations. “When we talk about sustain­abil­ity, we mean the balance of social, economic and envi­ron­men­tal factors to be stewards of our communities, economies, and the environment,” explains CDM Smith’s sustain­abil­ity discipline leader Melissa Harclerode. "CDM Smith’s Sustain­A­lyt­ics provides a data-driven approach to sustain­abil­ity planning resulting in solutions that consider people, planet and profit effects and promote sustainable investments for our clients," she adds."CDM Smith’s Sustain­A­lyt­ics provides a data-driven approach to sustain­abil­ity planning resulting in solutions that consider people, planet and profit effects and promote sustainable investments for our clients," she adds.

Let’s look at the differences through a real-life example. Say, for instance, a city wants to identify options to improve a major corridor along a waterbody. Climate resilient strategies might elevate the road above the predicted water levels of a 100-year floodplain. Sustainable solutions could include emphasizing bike lanes, pedestrian paths and bus lanes while de-emphasizing car lanes, with consid­er­a­tion of envi­ron­men­tal stewardship, social equity, and cost efficacy.  Sustainable and climate-resilient solutions may look like creating a floodable greenway with bike/pedestrian paths and re-routing car and bus traffic inland and out of the flood zone using low-carbon construc­tion materials and fueled equipment.

These subtle nuances hold the key to developing successful trans­porta­tion plans and imple­ment­ing infra­struc­ture improve­ments. Carbon reduction strategies will need to be resilient to severe weather events, while resilient adaptation measures will need to minimize its carbon footprint and other sustain­abil­ity impacts in construc­tion, operation and maintenance. 

But the most effective plans are ones that tap into the expertise of cross-disci­pli­nary teams: planners, engineers, and subject matter experts which allows DOTs to develop more holistic planning approaches and incorporate resilience and sustain­abil­ity into all of their carbon reduction activities. Examples include maximizing benefits to disad­van­taged communities and minimizing natural resource use, aligning with regional and federal policies, and integrating projected climate change impacts and severe weather events into statewide planning efforts.  

No matter how states ultimately decide to capitalize on the federal funding coming from the BIL, the long-term investment dollars earmarked for carbon reduction and resilience are a win-win for the trans­porta­tion industry, the communities we live in, and our future generations

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