Local scientists and government officials have huddled and determined that transportation assets vital to the Oahu’s economic health are among the most susceptible to the impacts of climate change.

Honolulu Harbor could be affected by increased storm intensity, Honolulu Airport by rise in sea level and McCully Bridge into Waikiki by tidal surges, the experts and planners fret.

The findings are part of the first wide-ranging look at the potential impacts of climate change on Honolulu’s transportation infrastructure and were presented Wednesday night at a meeting of the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“What impact does that have?” asked OMPO Executive Director Brian Gibson. “We don’t know. We’d like to find out.”

The two-day workshop was held just days before the early March tsunami scare that brought sea-level rise and other climate change impacts top of mind. It was made possible by a $53,000 federal grant. The program is designed to evaluate the potential impact on transportation assets on Oahu, and final results will be published later this year.

“Climate change is happening right now. … It’s not something that’s going to happen, it’s something that’s happening,” Gibson said. “If you wait until it’s an emergency, your options for mitigating are limited and it’s usually really, really expensive.”

One key (and controversial) piece of transportation infrastructure that didn’t make the cut to be studied is the proposed Honolulu rail system. Gibson said rail came up at the workshop but ultimately wasn’t included in the study for two reasons: It doesn’t yet exist so any attempts to evaluate the vulnerability would be hypothetical; and the rail would be elevated and unlikely to be impacted by higher sea levels.

The program won’t make recommendations for mitigation efforts, he said. At most, it’ll show the need for further studies and put climate change into the calculus for planning decisions.

Oahu’s is one of five pilot studies happening under the federal grant. The others are in northern New Jersey, San Francisco, Virginia and Washington state.

Read more about the study and the input from various experts and planners at the OMPO website.

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