Adapting bridge infrastructure to climate change: institutionalizing resilience in intergovernmental transportation planning processes in the Northeastern USA

  • Anna SchulzEmail author
  • Asim Zia
  • Christopher Koliba
Original Article


Multi-level governance networks provide both opportunities and challenges to mainstream climate change adaptation due to their routine decision-making and coordination processes. This paper explores institutionalizing resilience and adaptation to climate change in the intergovernmental transportation planning processes that address bridge infrastructure in the Northeastern United States (USA), specifically in Vermont and Maine. The research presented here relies on nine interviews with policy-makers and planners, a survey of transportation project prioritization criteria, development of a longitudinal bridge funding database, and its integration with publicly available geospatial data. It presents a novel spatial analysis methodology, a modified version of which could be adopted by transportation agencies for prioritizing scarce adaptation funds. Although transportation agencies are undertaking a variety of mitigation activities to address business-as-usual needs, climate change adaptation and resilience efforts remain underprioritized. Adaptation is a global concern, but impacts vary dramatically between regions and require localized solutions. Bridges and culverts, which are especially vulnerable to climate-induced flooding impacts, have complex maintenance and design processes and are subject to convoluted adaptation planning procedures. Critical gaps in resources and knowledge are barriers to improved adaptation planning. Restructuring the transportation project prioritization procedures used by planning organizations to explicitly include adaptation may provide a novel strategy to institutionalize resilience in transportation. These procedures must be considered in the context of the intergovernmental networks that exist to support transportation infrastructure. Although these networks will likely vary across countries, the approaches introduced here to study and address transportation infrastructure adaptation may be applied to many settings.


Adaptation Bridge infrastructure Climate change Geospatial analysis Multi-level governance Transportation planning Resilience to extreme events Institutional design 



We gratefully acknowledge funding from the United States Department of Transportation via the University of Vermont Transportation Research Center and National Science Foundation EPS-1101317.

Compliance with ethical standards

The authors bear complete responsibility for all the data and information provided in this manuscript. The authors also verify that there are no conflicts of interest; that this manuscript has not been simultaneously submitted in full or in part to another journal; that no part of this manuscript has already been published; that no animal subjects were used in research; that human subjects were used only as non-personal interview sources; and that those individuals provided informed consented for the use of their statements in our research findings.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Community Development and Applied EconomicsUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA

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