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NOAA, FHWA Federal Agency Partnership Recognized with Environmental Excellence Awards

Published on: 06/21/2022

A NOAA partnership with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) received a U.S. Department of Transportation FHWA Environmental Excellence Award, which recognizes outstanding transportation projects, processes, and organizations that incorporate environmental stewardship into the planning and project development processes using FHWA funding sources.

Sea level rise is turning nuisance flooding into a “sunny day” event — high-tide flooding that occurs even without a storm.

The awarded application described the efforts by NOAA and FHWA to develop a competitive funding opportunity and recognized the first two projects funded for their groundbreaking nature. The collaborative funding opportunity, administered through NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science Effects of Sea Level Rise Program (ESLR), called for proposals that address infrastructure and environmental considerations in a holistic way, partnering the best coastal science on the effectiveness of nature-based solutions to reduce coastal-flooding with the best science on pavement deterioration due to inundation.

Roadways and transportation corridors often intersect coastal ecosystems, making it crucial to understand how the coastline will change in the future and how these changes will impact the integrity of transportation infrastructure. The funding opportunity solicited interdisciplinary teams, including transportation planners, engineers, and environmental specialists, and required direct collaboration with transportation professionals to develop outputs that will be useful to transportation planning and coastal decision making.

The two projects recognized by awards include:

  • Experts at Auburn University, University of South Alabama, and University of Wisconsin-Madison are working to develop an approach that evaluates road damage from inundation and the effectiveness of nature-based approaches to mitigate inundation impacts in Alabama. Learn more about the project here.
  • Experts at the University of New Hampshire, University of South Alabama, and Rockingham Metropolitan Planning Organization are working to identify primary coastal processes that cause pavement deterioration and damage and evaluate nature-based solution options in parts of Alabama, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine. Learn more about the project here.

These projects, and others funded in the future, will help to evaluate the use of nature-based solutions, such as sand dunes or living shorelines, rather than conventional hardened engineering designs, such as sea walls, to protect coastal roads from sea level rise and flooding. The project teams are evaluating the effects of sea level rise on coastal road and ferry access infrastructure, examining the causal linkages between coastal hazards and pavement damage, and identifying primary coastal processes that cause pavement deterioration and damage.

FHWA awarded 14 projects or programs in 2022 that exemplify FHWA’s priorities for Environmental Excellence. Experts Dr. Jo Sias of the University of New Hampshire and Dr. Ben Bowers of the Auburn University will accept the awards for their groundbreaking studies that are possible due to the collaboration and partnership efforts between NOAA and FHWA.

These collaborations represent one component of an emerging work plan between NOAA and DOT, which will integrate climate change considerations into new and adapted transportation systems. The partnership includes updating precipitation frequency estimates, advancing nature-based solutions, adding transportation-related variables into the NOAA Climate Explorer, and refining NOAA technical assistance and education services to better communicate climate change guidance to transportation professionals.

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