Three Ways We are Working to Protect BC Highways from Climate Change

BC climate change protection

It’s no secret. Extreme weather is on the rise as a result of global climate change.

What impacts will climate change have on our transportation infrastructure? Expect an increase in dramatic weather events like: coastal storm surges, extreme precipitation events and an increase in higher than normal temperatures.

Across BC, there are thousands of bridges allowing motorists to travel over our many lakes, rivers and streams. Our roadways also have countless culverts to pass water safely and prevent flood damage and erosion. When unexpected weather events happen, we can be dealing with more water than normal in a short period of time and this can present serious issues for bridges, roads and culverts that may not have enough capacity for these changed conditions. As a part of B.C.’s Climate Adaptation Strategy, we’re working with other key players to understand exactly what climate change might mean to our infrastructure and identifying ways we can adapt in response.

Here’s how:

  1. We’re analyzing and determining the vulnerabilities of our infrastructure from climate change. 

    Since 2007, we’ve been working with climate scientists, meteorologists, hydrology specialists, as well as transportation engineering and operations and maintenance specialists, to assess and understand climate and weather vulnerabilities to our infrastructure. In recent years, a number of extreme weather events have severely impacted BC highways. For example, events in Bella Coola, Stewart and Pine Pass caused major damage to our transportation infrastructure. We carefully studied how climate, weather, terrain and topography – as well as the nature of watersheds surrounding our infrastructure – contributed to these events. We’ve also recognized the ways in which Mountain Pine Beetle infestations and forest fires can worsen impacts to infrastructure during extreme weather events. By using climate model information we can develop a better understanding of future potential impacts on our infrastructure.

  2. We’re developing ways to reduce vulnerabilities and adapt to changing climate.

    We require consideration and evaluation of any vulnerability associated with future climate change and extreme weather to be included in our infrastructure design work. This applies to new projects as well as rehabilitation and maintenance projects – which means we are considering appropriate climate adaptation over the entire design life of our infrastructure. We also contributed to the Engineers and Geoscientists BC Practice Manual to establish methods for developing climate adapted designs for our infrastructure. These measures will help us continue to provide a provincial transportation system that is resilient, reliable and efficient regardless of unfolding climate change and extreme weather events.

  3. We encourage climate change and adaptation education for professionals, consultants, staff & students.
  4. Adaptation is defined as “a change or the process of change by which an organism or species
    becomes better suited to its environment
    .” To make sure that our transportation infrastructure remains reliable in the face of climate change, we are taking steps to adapt BC highways, so that they can continue to connect communities across the province, whatever the weather.

    Have any comments or questions? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. What about simple common sense? There are obvious vulnerabilities (obvious to locals) that don’t seem to be addressed as far as anyone can see, although admittedly they are seldom about major highways, and are probably hamstrung by local jurisdictions. I’m talking about single access areas being vulnerable to forest fire cutoff, when only a kilometer or two of connecting roadway would allow for effective evacuation. Also, any town that has a single bridge connecting both sides is at risk of severe trouble if the one bridge is damaged. There should be efforts made to fix that vulnerability. eg. Lake Cowichan.

    • Hi Bart and thanks for your insightful suggestions. The BC government is undertaking a formal review of the recent wildfires in the province, with the aim to identify and address oversight and to reduce vulnerability.

      Here’s a link to more info: