WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, September 13, 2023, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing to examine the effects of extreme heat and weather on transportation users, assets, and workers as well as ways to improve transportation infrastructure resiliency.
Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Today’s hearing comes at a time when the topic of extreme heat is top of mind for tens of millions of Americans. Just last week, Washington, D.C. experienced its hottest day on record. Temperatures reached 99 degrees with a heat index between 100 and 105 degrees.
“That record followed a summer of sweltering heat waves across large parts of our country. For example, Phoenix, Arizona — home to one of our witnesses today — saw temperatures of 110 degrees or hotter every day from June 30 to July 30, and even hotter days in August. In fact, this summer was our planet’s hottest on record, according to data from the European Union Climate Change Service.
“Extreme heat contributes to dry conditions that make areas more susceptible to wildfires that burn out of control. Just last month, our nation witnessed the heartbreaking loss of lives, homes, and businesses due to the unprecedented wildfires in Hawaii. And, for years we have seen the same thing happen across Western states such as California and Oregon. Wildfires can have wide-ranging impacts on transportation — from road closures and travel disruptions due to excessive smoke, to the weakening of highway and bridge structures from the heat generated by those fires.
“These are not unrelated or isolated events. Extreme heat also means warmer oceans, which lead to stronger and more destructive hurricanes. Currently, we are in the middle of an active hurricane season that has already resulted in damaging storms that have unleashed wind, rain, and storm surges in Florida, the Southeast, and the West Coast.
“In my own state of Delaware, coastal storms and flooding have resulted in the closure of parts of State Route 1, which is the major north-south highway linking communities along our coast.
“The frequency, intensity, and duration of more intense heat waves, wildfires, and extreme weather across the United States have only gotten worse in recent years due in large part to human-caused climate change. In turn, this has put our nation’s transportation infrastructure, workforce, and travelers at greater risk of harm.
“Extreme heat can impact our transportation infrastructure in many ways. For example, when temperatures reach triple digits, roadways can buckle, resulting in costly damage that disrupts travel and leads to unsafe road conditions. In fact, it is estimated that the additional road maintenance and replacement costs caused by extreme heat could reach a total cost of $26 billion nationwide by 2040.
“And, it’s not just roads and highway infrastructure that experience the effects of extreme heat. High temperatures can cause rail tracks to shift, delaying or slowing rail service. Last summer, a commuter train in the San Francisco Bay Area derailed when the temperature of the tracks exceeded 140 degrees.
“When talking about extreme heat, we cannot forget that heat’s effect on transportation infrastructure directly impacts the people who use it as well as those who build and maintain it.
“We know that rising temperatures have serious implications for our health. Thousands of people in the United States are hospitalized each year due to heat. Many of these hospitalizations are workers who are exposed to dangerously high temperatures on the job.
“Today, we will hear about the impacts that urban heat islands have on the people who live in cities, including many of whom live in low-income and disadvantaged communities. We will also hear about the hazards faced by our transportation construction workforce, whose jobs require them to be outside, building and repairing our roads, highways, and bridges even when temperatures soar to record highs.
“In the years ahead, extreme heat will continue to threaten our infrastructure and public health — even as we work to transition toward a clean energy future.
“Fortunately, solutions are available to help transportation agencies better address the effects of extreme heat. Cities like Phoenix, Arizona and Los Angeles, California are turning to innovative materials, including cooler pavement, which gives off less heat than traditional pavement.
“Communities are also deploying strategies to reduce the urban heat island effect by planting more tree cover to help cool sidewalks and transit stops and reduce the overall heat intensity in dense, highly paved places. In Delaware, we have already planted 80,000 trees since launching the ‘Tree for Every Delawarean Initiative’ in 2020.
“I am proud that our committee has taken a leadership role in implementing policies to address extreme heat and weather at the federal level. In the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, we created new programs — including the Healthy Streets Program, the PROTECT program, and the Neighborhood Access and Equity Program — to help states and local governments better address this challenge.
“With that, my hope is that today’s hearing will help to further our committee’s understanding of the nexus between extreme heat and transportation. I also hope that our hearing today will bring greater awareness to the work that is being done across our country to address this increasingly urgent problem.
“Today, we are privileged to be joined by a panel of three witnesses who will testify about the many ways in which cities, the labor workforce, and the private sector are working — and in many ways working together — to make our communities more resilient to extreme heat and weather events.”