Building Bridges: Ensuring Equitability in Infrastructure and Climate Resilience

Photo of team - From left: Jessica Boakye (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Scott Jackson (Environmental Conservation), Scott Civjan (Civil & Environmental Engineering)

From left: Jessica Boakye (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Scott Jackson (Environmental Conservation), Scott Civjan (Civil & Environmental Engineering)

There is widespread agreement that some communities are more vulnerable than others to the impacts of climate change. To ensure that government resources are distributed equitably, state and local decision-makers need to be equipped with accurate, data-driven measures of which communities face the greatest risks and therefore have the greatest needs. This study aims to do just that.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed in 2021, authorized $110 billion in funds to “repair and rebuild our roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users.” However, with the effects of climate change becoming more severe, which of those roads and bridges – in other words, which users – should be prioritized? There is widespread agreement that some communities are more vulnerable than others to the impacts of climate change. To ensure that government resources are distributed equitably, state and local decision-makers need to be equipped with accurate, data-driven measures of which communities face the greatest risks and therefore have the greatest needs. This study aims to do just that. Culverts are tunnel-like structures that allow water to flow under a road, railway, or similar obstruction. Examining culverts in the Deerfield River Watershed as a case study, this study aims to develop quantifiable data measuring the social vulnerability of communities in the region, the structural conditions of each culvert, and how critical each culvert is to accessing essential services. We will then simulate a flooding event, and use the above data to recommend equitable rehabilitation and recovery strategies. Our work will directly benefit the communities of the Deerfield River Watershed by providing them with information about which culverts to prioritize and simulating the effects of different rehabilitation strategies in the event of a disaster. Moreover, by creating objective measures of vulnerability and importance in infrastructure, these innovative methods can be applied to different kinds of infrastructure all across the country. We hope this study will advance conversations about how and where to prioritize infrastructure spending, ensuring that the most vulnerable communities are not left behind.