As impacts from global climate change continue to affect our built environment, it becomes increasingly clear that our nation’s infrastructure needs to be able to adapt accordingly. Global climate change has impacted infrastructure across the board. Incorporating resiliency and sustainability measures has never been more important.
The recent mudslide damage that occurred on Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon in Colorado is a prime example. The mudslide affected about 1 mile of the 13-mile segment, inhibiting highway travelers with road closures and continued repairs through November. The closures will profoundly affect Glenwood Springs, a tourism-dependent resort city whose renowned hot springs have drawn visitors for generations.
Mead & Hunt wrote a historic context on Glenwood Canyon for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to better understand the significance of the interstate segment. The narrow, winding canyon, which includes a stretch of the Colorado River popular for recreational pursuits, is a spectacular place—everyone who drives through it remembers it. The award-winning design of this highway amplifies the experience of driving it. Significant effort and expense resulted in a design that seamlessly blends in with the surrounding natural environment.
Achieving this harmony with nature was an important milestone for highway design and construction in Colorado. However, environmental impacts resulting from climate change were not considered when the interstate was initially designed. Major wildfires, rockslides, and mudslides have closed the road in recent years. Completed in the early 1990s, its design predates the current climate crisis. For environmentally fragile and unique places like Glenwood Canyon, the need for protection from the impacts of climate change is imperative. Not only is the road a vital link in the interstate system, it also represents a precarious resource and an exceptional example of environmentally-sensitive highway design and construction that we cannot afford to lose.
It is vital that we in the AEC industry consider climate change impacts as we design new infrastructure, and work to preserve existing infrastructure. While aging infrastructure may not have accounted for global warming in its original design, we must now work to incorporate it if these historic places are to withstand the test of time. Historic contexts like the one Mead & Hunt completed for Glenwood Canyon are important tools that help AEC professionals and community leaders make informed decisions as we work to preserve historic features while balancing the needs of the future.