Letter | Published:

Increased costs to US pavement infrastructure from future temperature rise

Nature Climate Change volume 7, pages 704707 (2017) | Download Citation


Roadway design aims to maximize functionality, safety, and longevity1,2. The materials used for construction, however, are often selected on the assumption of a stationary climate1,3. Anthropogenic climate change may therefore result in rapid infrastructure failure and, consequently, increased maintenance costs, particularly for paved roads where temperature is a key determinant for material selection. Here, we examine the economic costs of projected temperature changes on asphalt roads across the contiguous United States using an ensemble of 19 global climate models forced with RCP 4.5 and 8.5 scenarios. Over the past 20 years, stationary assumptions have resulted in incorrect material selection for 35% of 799 observed locations. With warming temperatures, maintaining the standard practice for material selection is estimated to add approximately US$13.6, US$19.0 and US$21.8 billion to pavement costs by 2010, 2040 and 2070 under RCP4.5, respectively, increasing to US$14.5, US$26.3 and US$35.8 for RCP8.5. These costs will disproportionately affect local municipalities that have fewer resources to mitigate impacts. Failing to update engineering standards of practice in light of climate change therefore significantly threatens pavement infrastructure in the United States.

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We acknowledge the World Climate Research Program’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups (listed in Supplementary Table 1) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. We would also like to acknowledge the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) at the University of Arizona for providing support to Z. Guido.

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  1. Arizona State University, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, PO Box 875306, Tempe, Arizona 85287-5306, USA

    • B. Shane Underwood
    • , Padmini Gudipudi
    •  & Yarden Feinberg
  2. Institute of the Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA

    • Zack Guido


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B.S.U. designed the study, identified the data sources, created the scripts to analyse the climate data, and developed the structure of the paper in collaboration with Z.G. and P.G.; Z.G. provided inputs on climate modelling and ensemble interpretation and review of the manuscript; P.G. reviewed the manuscript and discussed interpretation of the data at length; Y.F. assisted in downloading, cataloguing, and running the climate scripts. All authors contributed equally to developing the ideas in this paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to B. Shane Underwood.

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