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Report: Climate Change Bringing Severe Impacts to Midwest

Volunteers packed thousands of sandbags this summer when thousands of homes were flooding in the northern part of the state. (V. Carter)
Volunteers packed thousands of sandbags this summer when thousands of homes were flooding in the northern part of the state. (V. Carter)
October 13, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Parts of the country along the coasts have been battered this year by Mother Nature, and a new report from the Midwest Economic Policy Institute warns that the threat of climate change extends much farther inland and could wreak havoc on transportation and infrastructure systems across the Midwest.

Study author Mary Craighead says policymakers need to understand the potential costs and consequences of climate change, and adds they need to be proactive to protect communities and the economy. Her report says the average air temperature has increased by more than 4 degrees since the 1980s, and there's been a 27-percent increase in the number of days of very heavy rain since the '50s.

"The higher temperatures and the stronger storms can reduce the lifespan of roads and bridges," she says. "They can cause railways to buckle. Flooding, obviously, is a huge issue that can impact the flow of traffic, the flow of freight, which can impact our economy."

Flooding is a key issue because there has been a steady reduction in ice coverage on the Great Lakes, and more frequent freeze-thaw cycles. Northern Illinois saw severe flooding from late-summer storms. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner issued disaster declarations for four counties.

The study recommends limiting development in low-lying areas that already have experienced storm-related damage, and updating heat and rainfall standards used in the project-design process.

"It's just going to keep getting worse, so it's time we really need to stop debating it and start actually taking action and planning for it in the future so that we don't have to deal with the ramifications after the fact, we can actually plan for it ahead of time," she explains.

The study says national infrastructure needs are expected to top $2 trillion by 2025. It notes the state departments of transportation in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Minnesota have all pursued asset-management programs to address climate change and assess vulnerabilities.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL