Infrastructure, America shores up its defenses against a climate gone crazy

From New York to New Mexico, from California to Idaho all the projects to reduce climate impacts on communities

Over the last 50 years the United States suffered 355 weather and climate disasters, and their total cost adds up to more than $2.5 trillion. The National Center for Environmental Information, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which every year publishes a map on “Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disaster”, classified 2022 as one of the worst in decades for heat waves above seasonal averages and the drought that struck much of the country.

Last year America was hit by at least 18 major climate events, in addition to drought, including a cold storm in Texas, floods in Missouri and Kentucky, and three tropical Hurricanes (Fiona, Ian, Nicole), costing $165 billion.

Climate’s impact on the American states

Last year there were abnormal climate variations in several states. The average annual US temperature rose to 53.4 degrees Fahrenheit (11.9 degrees celsius), up 1.4 degrees over the average for the 20th century. It was the third hottest year of the last 128 years.

Florida and Rhode Island both registered the fifth hottest year of their history, while Massachusetts recorded its sixth. Another four states experienced the first 10 hottest years of their history: California, Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire. For Alaska it was its 16th hottest year.

On the other hand, according to the Center for Environmental Information, rainfall dropped to 28.35 inches (72 cm), 1.6 inches (4 cm) below the average, making 2022 the third driest in America’s history.

These numbers explain why Americans, and not just Federal and State administrations, are becoming more familiar with the term resilience. From New York to New Mexico, from California to Idaho, many projects are already underway or in the approval phase to reduce climate impact on communities and their infrastructure. The investments are focused on the cleanup and safeguard of rivers and to shore up defenses for major infrastructure such as roads, bridges, dams and sewage treatment plants.

How New York City is responding to a climate gone crazy

New York City alone has $4 billion in ongoing projects to improve or install new water mains, and upgrade coastal areas and public squares. New Yorkers have a high sense of vulnerability when it comes to weather events. So it is becoming more common to see rain gardens, infiltration basins, green roofs and permeable pavements in road projects. The memory of hurricane Sandy, which struck the Big Apple in October 2012 with force, is present especially in East Manhattan, where the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) plan was announced as the greatest urban climate adaptation project in the United States.

The $500 million set aside, in part from the Federal government and in part from the city, pays for the demolition of the East River Park and the construction of a new elevated park, with piers, walls and sluice gates to reduce the damage in case a storm or a rise in sea levels should cause a flood. The park will stretch 2.4 miles from Montgomery Street to East 25th Street, an area with 100,000s residents. The borders of this project, according to the technical estimates, correspond with the natural pressure points of the centuries-old alluvial plain. They are areas where the ground is higher along the coast, making it easier to close the water system that enters from north and south. The design aims to integrate the flood defenses in the community, improving open spaces and access to the seafront, rather than walling in the neighborhood.

Construction of the East Side Coastal Resiliency project began in 2020 and will continue until 2026.

Webuild’s projects to safeguard America

To activate high climate protection projects from east to west, from Florida to California, NOAA launched the Climate-Ready Coasts initiative, which aims to promote the flow of funds from the so-called Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, reinforcing more than ever the bond between engineering and resilience. Precisely this bond is the basis for a vast construction program by the Webuild group and its unit Lane in America. Among the most important projects we find the strengthening of the Tyndall Air Force base in Panama City, Florida, which was damaged by hurricane Michael in 2018, and the construction of the Northeast Boundary Tunnel (NEBT) near Washington D.C., where a 8.2 kms long tunnel, dug 30 meters below ground, will connect the capital’s sewer system, reducing floods from overflows and cleaning up the Anacostia river. All projects that aim to use innovative infrastructure as a tool to mitigate the negative impact of climate events.