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Studies: Global warming wreaking havoc on Indiana's infrastructure

By CHRISTOPHER STEPHENS - (Anderson) Herald Bulletin

Unless mitigation measures are taken, climate change will mean more than just hotter summers and less predictable winters in Indiana, according to two new studies.

The studies, published this month by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute and highlighted last week at the Indiana Professional Engineering Conference, warn that climate change will devastate Hoosier transportation and electrical systems.

“In the wake of widespread flooding in 2008, 2015, and 2018 and severe drought in 2012, Indiana is already experiencing observable impacts from climate change,” said Mary Craighead, the lead author of both studies.

“It is vital for policymakers to understand the potential costs of these events and to make the necessary investments in energy and infrastructure systems that can help mitigate the long-term economic consequences.”

The state’s average rainfall has grown 9 percent since 1980. The average temperature has risen each year since the 1950s, Craighead said, wreaking havoc on the state’s roadways, bridges and railway structures.

Increased heat can reduce the lifespan of pavement and cause railways to buckle, not only causing closed roads and railways, but also damaging the cars and trains that drive over them. Flooding leads to weakened supports for bridges and can deteriorate soil-supporting roadways, tunnels and bridges.

“At best, this translates to higher-than-expected maintenance costs, and at worst, interruptions of services and freight and commuter movements on which the economy depends,” Craighead said.

Indiana’s above-ground electricity transmission lines are especially susceptible to high winds, ice, snow and electrical storms, the studies found.

The state ranks ninth in the nation and third in the Midwest in electricity outages caused by extreme weather. The rate of outages is expected to increase as infrastructure systems age and extreme weather becomes more frequent.

Failing roads, bridges and electrical lines ultimately hit taxpayers squarely in the pocketbook.

“State and local governments can and must take steps to mitigate these already apparent impacts, by making sure investments in infrastructure, energy systems and new development reflect today’s climate realities — not the 1950s,” Craighead said.

The studies call for a range of policy changes, including a state Climate Action Plan with greenhouse gas emissions targets, a climate adaptation plan for new and existing infrastructure, updating heat and rainfall standards used in project design and limiting development in locations prone to flooding.

In particular, Craighead calls for increased diversification of Indiana’s current coal-based energy production system. While Indiana is producing more and consuming less energy than in 2000, it pays far more for coal and industrial electricity than many other U.S. states.

“While natural market forces are already producing more renewable energy and less energy demand in Indiana, more can and should be done,” Craighead concluded.