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Plan for climate resilience

Plan for climate resilience

Our climate is changing at a global scale. Climate resilience is the ability of our region and its communities to prepare for and recover from the acute shocks and chronic stresses of climate change by transforming our infrastructure, natural systems, and social structures to be more responsive and adaptable. This will necessitate reenvisioning the way road, water, and energy infrastructure is built and maintained, preserving and protecting natural and agricultural areas, implementing stormwater best management practices, and creating social networks and resources to give residents tools to withstand climate impacts.


In northeastern Illinois, a changing climate translates to more frequent and severe weather events, extreme heat, and drought (see the ON TO 2050 Natural Resources snaphot for more information).[1] Climate change acts as a force multiplier on already existing environmental, land use, economic, transportation, and social challenges, compounding and exacerbating these issues through its impacts. Flooding has already caused major road, rail, and utility outages, disruptions of freight traffic, sewer overflows, and personal and financial stresses for residents and businesses. Heat waves have caused illness, hospitalization, and death in vulnerable communities as well as damage to infrastructure, and drought has had significant adverse effects on the region’s agricultural sector, water supply, and natural areas. Increasing temperatures can also lead to greater ozone formation, worsening air quality. The land and water assets that make up the region’s green infrastructure network not only support environmental quality, but also provide an important line of defense against many of these negative impacts. Those assets also face challenges from a changing climate and must be protected to ensure continued ecosystem services.


[GRAPHIC TO COME: An informational graphic on climate change impacts will highlight climate impacts, particularly flood damages, including climate projections.]


In addition, the region’s gray infrastructure is not prepared for many of today’s storms. Most of the region’s roads were designed using standards that pre-date the increased number of heavy rain events, freeze-thaw cycles, and hotter and wetter conditions posed by a changing climate. Water and wastewater treatment plants are impacted by flooding, which can disrupt service and pollute surface waters. Increased freeze-thaw events can lead to additional water main breaks and water loss. Energy infrastructure cannot always respond to increased peaks in demand from extreme temperatures, and older facilities may not be built to withstand stronger storms.


Concerted, collaborative regional effort on resilience issues is essential to create a climate resilient region and maximize the benefit of investments. Climate issues cross physical and political boundaries, and can be integrated into a variety of planning efforts, such as comprehensive plans, capital improvement plans, green infrastructure plans, watershed plans, and regulatory updates. The region’s most vulnerable residents are particularly affected by climate change impacts like increased flooding, transit disruptions, or heat waves, and should be extensively engaged in resilience planning.


[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show climate resilience interventions in a subarea of the region.]


The following subsection describes strategies and actions to implement this recommendation.

Incorporate climate resilience and adaptation measures into planning and development

Utilizing planning and development processes is an effective way to implement measures that help protect against climate impacts. Through the LTA program, CMAP is already working to integrate climate change information, such as vulnerability assessments, and recommendations into local planning processes. Other units of government in the region have created standalone plans related to climate change or incorporated these elements into other planning documents. Coordination across units of government responsible for different planning efforts is particularly important. For example, counties typically conduct land use, watershed, stormwater, and hazard mitigation planning, all of which affect climate resilience at the municipal level. And because climate change can disproportionately affect residents within EDAs, as well as the elderly, people with chronic diseases, and those without health insurance, it is critical to meaningfully engage these populations in resilience planning.


CMAP should finalize its approach for integrating climate change and vulnerability into local planning efforts, and employ that approach through the LTA program.

Municipalities and counties should integrate climate impacts and vulnerability into relevant plans and regulations and coordinate with appropriate actors during planning processes.

CMAP, counties, and other partners should support and coordinate pre-disaster planning efforts, including voluntary buyout programs, flood risk assessments, identification and protection of critical facilities, and stormwater planning.

CMAP and partners should identify planning best practices and strategies to meet resilience goals.

All governments should ensure that vulnerable populations are able to meaningfully participate in climate resilience planning through robust community engagement processes.

CMAP and partners should analyze the effects of climate change on vulnerable populations and develop strategies to build resilience for those residents.

Strengthen gray and green infrastructure to withstand climate change

Climate change has already affected the region’s infrastructure assets, causing road closures and damages to the transportation system, water and wastewater utility disruptions, and declines in ecosystem services due to habitat degradation.[2] To continue providing essential services, the region's gray and green infrastructure systems need to be transformed to anticipate further climate changes. Expanding the region’s green infrastructure network is an important element of this strategy. From the large scale network of protected natural lands to site-scale interventions with a variety of co-benefits, these strategies can protect the region from the effects of climate change through natural functions such as stormwater management and the mitigation of emissions. Furthermore, biodiverse native ecosystems can also better withstand invasive species, disease, flooding, and drought expected of a changing climate.


New technology and gray infrastructure design and materials also have an important role in ensuring climate resilience. Modernization efforts should promote infrastructure that is based on revised design standards that anticipate future climate conditions and built or retrofitted at comfortable levels of risk tolerance. In addition, as road and transit systems modernize and become dependent on advanced technology, reliable electricity and communications infrastructure will become critical to the ability of the transportation system to function under extreme conditions.


State and local transportation and water infrastructure agencies should review and update design manuals to ensure that current data informs design standards.

CMAP and partners should continue research, analysis, and cross-jurisdictional implementation of resilient natural resource strategies.

Local governments and stewardship groups should promote and/or require native species, habitat restoration, and sustainable landscaping materials and practices, which can achieve multiple regional environmental benefits.

Transportation implementers should determine the vulnerability of transportation infrastructure to climate change impacts and design transportation infrastructure to withstand and adapt to the climate of its intended lifespan.

CMAP should incorporate climate resilience criteria into transportation programming processes.

Service providers should ensure redundant and reliable electricity and communications infrastructure.

Improve the operational response to weather events to ensure mobility

Climate change is already causing more frequent road flooding, snow storms, and heat- and cold-related pavement and communication failures. Inclement weather is currently estimated to cause 15 percent of congestion, increase the number of crashes and delays and reduce road capacity. Approximately half of the days in a typical year have weather conditions that affect driving.[3]  Pedestrians and transit users are also affected by inclement weather, and pedestrian infrastructure is often overlooked in weather response activities.


Existing regional strategies to mitigate impacts include traveler information, alerts and advisories, vehicle restrictions such as banning trucks during high winds, road closures, snow and ice control, plowing, and pumping water from flooded locations. IDOT, the Tollway, and Lake County report real-time “road weather” (pavement) information to TravelMidwest, but other counties currently do not. Weather responsive traffic management is also not widely used today, except for closing roads to traffic under severe conditions. As road and transit systems modernize, the same technologies that can improve system safety and reliability can make the system more responsive to weather events. The expansion of intelligent transportation system (ITS) devices and traffic management capabilities will support a variety of weather responsive traffic management strategies, such as variable speed limits to reduce speeds, updating traffic signal timing and plans to support detours and slower speeds, and increasing coverage of emergency vehicle patrols to remove disabled vehicles more quickly. In addition, as the region’s maintenance fleets become equipped with fleet management technology, opportunities for better coordination of snow and ice removal between different jurisdictions will emerge. This will reduce costs and improve the efficiency of these activities.


It will be important to collect and analyze information about how facilities perform under various severe weather scenarios so agencies can develop planned responses and better serve all users of the transportation system. For example, focusing incident management resources on locations that are known to be affected by rain or snow can reduce congestion and secondary incidents. Pavement flooding information has not been collected on a regional basis, and there is no standard pavement flooding reporting system. The impact of flooding on our roadway operations as of today is not known.


CMAP, and IDOT, and the Tollway should work toward implementing a regional, multijurisdictional traffic management center, either virtual or traditional.

Transportation agencies should ensure redundant and reliable electricity and communications infrastructure and build redundancy and flexibility into planning for major transportation corridors.

Transportation implementers should expand ITS devices and traffic management capabilities to support weather responsive traffic management strategies.

Transportation implementers should coordinate snow and ice removal across jurisdictions, when possible.

Transportation operators should conduct an analysis of road performance under severe weather conditions to develop planned responses.

CMAP should develop a regional pavement flooding reporting system to help plan for flood events.

Create a more flexible and decentralized electric grid

Distributed energy resources (DERs) are electricity generation sources that are typically smaller than traditional power stations and positioned closer to where electricity is consumed, often on the same site (such as rooftop solar arrays). DERs help to increase the resilience of the energy grid to stresses such as high demand periods, and DERs featuring renewable energy sources have the potential to greatly reduce the GHG emissions associated with energy consumption. Microgrids, which include DERs and can operate independently of the main grid, could also minimize energy service interruptions. They allow key infrastructure to be “islanded” from the larger distribution grid in the event of a broader system disruption, making them suitable for vulnerable facilities such as hospitals, data centers, and wastewater treatment plants. The ON TO 2050 Energy strategy paper provides more detail on energy strategies for CMAP and partners.[4]


Energy stakeholders should collaborate to proliferate DERs and maximize their benefits.

Local governments should streamline zoning and permitting requirements for DERs.

ComEd, in conjunction with partners, should continue to assess the potential and role of microgrids, and expand them as appropriate.

CMAP should host public regional data sets related to energy, as available.

The federal government should redouble efforts through programs such as the Smart Grid Investment Program that encourage a transition away from centralized electricity generation toward decentralized generation and the “smart grid.”

Diversify agricultural systems to promote resilience

Through its recommendation to “Promote Sustainable Local Food,” GO TO 2040 promoted strategies to facilitate local food production, increase access to healthy food, and raise understanding and awareness of nutrition and food policy. ON TO 2050 reinforces the importance of those strategies, and also recognizes that the region’s agricultural economy will experience disruptions due to climate change. Localized changes in temperature and precipitation will alter crop yields and economic returns. The ability of farmers to adapt to climate change through planting decisions, diversification, resilient strains of crops, land management practices, and emerging technologies will be crucial to ensuring a sustainable agricultural sector in our region. In addition, as crop production patterns shift nationally in response to climate disruption, the role of the region’s agricultural processing sector and its transportation network will likely need to adapt to new products and routes.


Diversifying agricultural production and increasing the amount of food grown locally can help the region respond to climate and distribution changes in the future, particularly if other parts of the country suffer greater climate challenges to agricultural systems. For the agricultural economy to withstand these changes, CMAP and partners should support sustainable land management practices through local planning, fund critical supporting organizations from federal and state resources, and consider the relationship between a resilient agricultural system and infrastructure priorities. Ultimately, an agricultural system that better mimics, enhances, and complements our natural systems and contributes to land and water health would be better for the region and our downstream neighbors.


Counties and local governments should work with chambers of commerce, economic development professionals, stakeholders, and the local or state Farm Bureau to plan for and address the needs of a more diversified agricultural system.

A regional partner should create a platform to strengthen agricultural systems on a variety of fronts, including climate resilience and diversification, infrastructure and logistics, and land protection.

Municipalities, counties, and forest preserve and conservation districts should encourage sustainable land management practices and implementation of the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy on agricultural lands.

Local governments should update their plans and development ordinances to reduce barriers to local food production.

Explore a regional climate resilience platform to coordinate initiatives and provide data and resources

Many resilience strategies require coordinated subarea, regional, or statewide action. A regional partnership may be an effective way to ensure coordination of resilience-building activities, policies, advocacy efforts, research needs, and best practices needed to achieve a climate resilient region. Regardless of its ultimate form, this platform can open channels for dialogue, knowledge exchange, and relationship building. Initial efforts to forge such a coalition included the Climate Resilience Resource Group, an ad hoc group that provided feedback to CMAP on development of the Climate Resilience strategy paper, and the Northeastern Illinois Resilience Partnership, which convened after the strategy paper was published to discuss implementation activities.


A sustained regional partnership can also play a role in helping to provide needed climate data and resources and to translate that information for other stakeholders. Regional leaders, from local elected officials to business owners, need up-to-date data on climate science as well as guidance on how to interpret and apply it in their unique contexts. The Illinois Climatologist Office, Illinois State Water Survey, Midwestern Regional Climate Center, and other entities provide high quality historical and projected climate data and climate monitoring. Many stakeholders, however, do not know about these resources or may not understand how data on precipitation or temperature changes can be applied to decision making. CMAP, in partnership with these and other institutions, can play a role in translating climate science to policy making and planning. The agency’s work on climate resilience and related impacts has resulted in new regional data about land surface temperature, social vulnerabilities to climate change, and areas susceptible to flooding, which can be shared and incorporated into planning processes.


CMAP and relevant organizations should assess the effectiveness of previous resilience groups and whether a new platform would be helpful for long term resilience building.

CMAP, the Illinois Climatologist Office, Illinois State Water Survey, Midwestern Regional Climate Center, and others should broadcast the existence of climate data and related resources and help translate the utility of these resources to decision makers.

CMAP, the Illinois Climatologist Office, Illinois State Water Survey, Midwestern Regional Climate Center, conservation organizations, and others should downscale regional climate models to facilitate local application, investigate climate impacts on our water and land resources, and pursue the development of other relevant data and research.


[1] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.  ON TO 2050 Snapshot, “Natural Resources” (2018),

[2] National Climate Assessment. 2014. “Transportation.”

[3] CMAP ON TO 2050 Strategy Paper, “Highway Operations Strategy Paper” (2016), 

[4] CMAP ON TO 2050 Strategy Paper, “Energy Strategy Paper” (2017),

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