At the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section (BSCES) annual Bertram Berger Seminar, Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Secretary Stephanie Pollack delivered a lunch keynote presentation that punctuated a morning of discussions on climate change. Largely recapping the recent findings of the Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth, Pollack’s June 12 presentation at the UMass Club in Boston focused on how climate change will impact transportation in Massachusetts, and on what the commonwealth can do to mitigate its effects.

Pollack’s slide show included the list of 10 “Key Challenges” found in the executive summary of the Commission’s December 2018 report.

As it relates to climate change, she highlighted one challenge in particular – “The transportation system needs to move more people in fewer vehicles.” Illustrating her point with data showing that the vast majority of trips in Massachusetts and throughout the U.S. are made in personal vehicles with the driver as the only occupant.

As an example, Pollack noted that the ride-share model is often ineffective because very little ride-sharing actually occurs. She also noted the declining transit ridership figures across the U.S. as another disturbing transportation trend.

Pollack echoed the theme in the Commission’s report, which stated: “The transportation system would operate more efficiently and effectively with increased availability and utilization of public transit and an increase in the number of other vehicles that carry more than one passenger, whether they are personal vehicles, private shuttles, or [transportation network companies].”

Two other important factors from the report, referenced by Pollack in her talk, were the need to “de-carbonize” the transportation system and to make it more resilient to the changing climate.

Backed by data showing that transportation contributes an overwhelming majority of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to the atmosphere, Pollack stressed the report’s finding that “if the Commonwealth is to meet its goal of reducing overall GHG emissions 80 percent by 2050, a large proportion of the emission reductions will have to come from transportation. And while accelerating conversion of cars and light duty trucks to electricity or other zero emission technologies is a key strategy, it is not enough by itself.”

To ensure resiliency of the transportation network, new infrastructure must be sited and designed with the climate of the future in mind, she said, adding that existing infrastructure needs to be retrofitted over time to withstand sea level rise and more intense weather events and heat.

Other discussion sessions were “Planning for Change through Plans, Policies & Design Standards,” and  “Designing & Building Projects that are Resilient to Change.” The former presentation was moderated by Luisa Paiewonksky, Director, Center for Infrastructure Systems and Technology, U.S. DOT/Volpe Center, and featured a panel of Jill Valdes Horwood – Director of Waterfront Policy, Boston Harbor Now; Richard A. Dimino – President & CEO, A Better City; Katie Choe – Chief Engineer/Director of Construction Management at City of Boston Public Works; and Kristin C. Lewis, Ph.D., Environmental Biologist, U.S. DOT/Volpe Center.

The second panel was moderated by Mia Mansfield, Director of Resilience and Adaptation at EEA, with a panel of Jeffrey Parenti – Deputy Chief Engineer, Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR); Erik Stoothoff – Chief Engineer, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA); Peter DeBruin – Climate Mitigation & Resiliency Manager, Massachusetts Port Authority; and Steve Miller – Supervisor, Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

The annual seminar is dedicated to the memory of Bertram Berger, a past president of BSCES who was honored for his contributions to ASCE and BSCES with the establishment of a memorial fund.