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Long Range Planning Division
Research & Policy Office

Research & Policy Office
James K. Polk Building, Suite 900
505 Deaderick Street
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0344
Phone: 615.253.6301
Fax: 615.532.8451

Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Pilot Project

In the spring of 2013, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) was selected by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as one of seven pilot projects across the United States to assess the vulnerability of Tennessee transportation infrastructure to extreme weather. TDOT decided to complete a statewide vulnerability assessment of the entire transportation system in Tennessee.

Project Background

In recent years, Tennessee has experienced natural hazard events that had a significant impact on passenger/freight transportation and mobility. Examples include the May 2010 flood in the Middle Tennessee area, multiple flooding events in downtown Chattanooga, sinkholes on interstates and major highways, and rock slides that have closed state and interstate highways.

The damage caused by extreme weather and the disruption to transportation have demonstrated the need to better understand transportation’s vulnerability. As a result, TDOT decided to submit a proposal to FHWA to perform a statewide multimodal vulnerability assessment of Tennessee’s transportation system.

Tennessee is land-locked but contains and borders three major river systems, including the Cumberland, Mississippi and Tennessee rivers, that move significant volumes of commodity freight. Major interstate highways (I-40, I-81, I-75, I-24 and I-65) that serve as national freight corridors also pass through Tennessee.

Project Scope and Objectives

The project will be a statewide vulnerability assessment for all transportation infrastructure (roads, rivers, rail, transit, aviation) and will assess the following for their associated impacts on transportation assets across the state of Tennessee.

  • Extreme weather (flooding, drought and less studied inland extreme weather risks (e.g., tornadoes, fog) and
  • The impacts of those extreme weather events (e.g., rock slides, sinkholes, river navigation)

TDOT believes the project will enhance the FHWA framework by adding more quantitative analysis to the vulnerability assessment process. To the extent that is feasible and practical, TDOT also plans to integrate project results into all TDOT projects, programs and processes.

The TDOT extreme weather vulnerability assessment project will:

  • Rely upon GIS maps to analyze vulnerability
  • Focus on inland extreme weather risks
  • Focus on risks to mobility of both passenger vehicles and freight movement
  • Apply to both private and public transportation infrastructure
  • Apply to both existing and planned transportation assets

This 18-month project (August 2013 – January 2015) will consist of four major tasks:

  • Identify and produce GIS maps of critical transportation assets across the state
  • Develop extreme weather scenarios and prepare GIS maps
  • Assess the vulnerability of critical transportation assets
  • Integrate project results into TDOT projects, programs and processes


Key Partners and Stakeholders

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will manage the overall project, and the TDOT project manager will coordinate all internal and external stakeholder activities. Vanderbilt University will serve as the project’s technical contractor and provide assistance on all project tasks.

TDOT is forming a Tennessee Extreme Weather and Transportation Adaptation Partnership (TEWTAP) for the project. TEWTAP’s responsibilities will include providing advice to the project and reviewing project results. Representatives will include senior staff from various TDOT divisions. Other participants will include other state agencies, such as the Department of Environment and Conservation, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. The five largest Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) will be members of TEWTAP as well as federal agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service.

The project will also include opportunities for regional and local stakeholders to participate and offer ideas and information. A series of regional focus group meetings will be held in the four major urban centers in Tennessee. These meetings will offer local governments and smaller MPOs the chance to offer suggestions and provide access to additional data.

Project Methodology

The project will consider a wide range of extreme weather events that threaten transportation infrastructure in Tennessee. TDOT will make extensive use of GIS data and information on transportation operations, including traffic and asset management data. TDOT plans to use GIS maps to depict the location of critical transportation assets and potential extreme weather events.

TDOT will use multiple sources of historic extreme weather data and forecasts of future conditions to develop extreme weather scenarios for the vulnerability assessment.

TDOT will also employ quantitative loss and damage estimation techniques (e.g., Hazus) in performing the vulnerability assessment. The Hazus software was developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to estimate potential economic losses from natural disasters.

Anticipated Outcomes

Through this project, TDOT expects to achieve several outcomes:

  • Understand and characterize vulnerability of the state’s transportation system to current and anticipated extreme weather events
  • Identify those highway segments and transportation facilities that are critical to transportation mobility and highly vulnerable to extreme weather
  • Inform the development of short-term and long-term adaptation strategies
  • Promote greater stakeholder awareness, collaboration and coordination in dealing with extreme weather risks and impacts

For more information, please contact Alan.Jones@tn.gov