Santa Barbara County Multi-Modal Transportation Network Resiliency Assessment


SB1 Adaptation Planning Grant: Initial Case Study

Challenge: Developing plans and strategies





Located on the Central Coast of California, Santa Barbara County contains eight incorporated cities, and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is a federally recognized tribal government located in the Santa Ynez Valley. The multi-modal transportation network resiliency assessment conducted for this project will include a vulnerability assessment to identify areas where transportation assets are most vulnerable to potential impacts of climate change. SBCAG intends to work collaboratively to complete a regional climate adaptation strategy for implementation and to identify a regional Climate Smart Transportation Network that utilizes nature-based solutions in locations most vulnerable to climate change impacts. The recommendations from the study will be incorporated into the next update of SBCAG's Regional Transportation Plan-Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP-SCS). The assessment will kick off in August 2018 and is expected to be complete within approximately one year.

The assessment supports a number of on-going State initiatives and priorities, including priorities of the California Transportation Plan on recommending best practices for adaptation and resiliency and linking adaptation planning and programming at the regional level. Implementation of a Climate Smart Transportation Network would make the region more resilient to the impacts of climate change by protecting natural systems and expanding transportation options. As noted in the California Air Resources Board's Vibrant Communities and Landscapes (September 2016), "protected and managed natural systems can mitigate impacts of floods, protect water quality and supply, enhance food security, and protect against other climate impacts."

There are two key deliverables associated with this work effort. The Multi-Modal Transportation Network Vulnerability Assessment, and the Recommended Adaptation Strategies & Climate Smart Transportation Network, which will review the vulnerability assessment results and determine appropriate adaptation strategies. The Climate Smart Transportation Network will strive to incorporate nature-based improvements. It will also complete a cost/benefit analysis of implementation of the Network, including consideration of co-benefits to sectors of public health, natural ecosystems, and social equity considerations.

Lead Agency and Partnerships

SBCAG will leverage its role as the MPO/RTPA to facilitate partnerships at the local, regional, and State level for this project. This would be accomplished primarily through on-going coordination with the project working group. The working group will review and assist with the assessment by providing existing data (where applicable), reviewing deliverables, and providing valuable insight and local knowledge.


The 2017 Regional Transportation Plan Guidelines encourage climate change adaptation to be considered in long range transportation plans (2017 RTP Guidelines for MPOs, California Transportation Commission, p. 160). SBCAG’s Fast Forward 2040 RTP-SCS outlined various state and local policies and on-going efforts to implement adaptation strategies. The State of California passed Senate Bill 1 in 2017, which includes funds set aside for adaptation planning grants.The availability of the grant funds represent an opportunity for SBCAG to coordinate and facilitate adaptation planning amongst local, regional, and, state staff and decision makers and to potentially shape policies and programs in SBCAG’s long-range transportation plan.

Funding Source

This project is funded by the SB1 grant referenced above, awarded $100,000, and supplemented by a local match.

Engagement Process

As noted above, SBCAG will coordinate and engage with a working group on the process. The working group will consist of representatives from SBCAG’s Technical Planning Advisory Committee and Technical Transportation Advisory Committee, Caltrans, and outside groups, such as the Coastal Conservancy. The working group will be consulted at a kick-off meeting and will review the deliverables for vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies specific to their geographic sub-areas and area of expertise. The purpose of the working group is to identify local needs and strategies (for example, hazard mitigation plans) and identify best practices at the local level for consideration.

Climate Impact Area

The primary climate change hazards for Santa Barbara County region include sea level rise and increases in large fire occurrence. Sea level rise will adversely affect vulnerable populations and commercial industries in the coastal zone, and may reduce the number of tourists visiting the region, impacting the local economy. Linear transportation infrastructure is located within the south coast of Santa Barbara County (U.S. 101 and the Union Pacific railroad) within the coastal zone. Impacts on these facilities affect regional transportation access, access to communities and job sites, and access to tourism areas throughout the County (California Adaptation Planning Guide, Understanding Regional Characteristics).

Increases in large fire occurrence have already been observed in the region and are projected to continue. In December 2017 the region experienced the largest recorded fire in state history, which was followed by a severe rain event on January 9, 2018. Due to the sheer magnitude of burnt vegetation, flash floods and mudflows resulted in loss of life and injuries, as well as major property damage in the region. The event delayed emergency response and resulted in major road closures and disruptions to regional and local transit services and rail. The closure was a major event, disrupting the daily commute patterns for approximately 12,000 workers commuting from Ventura County to jobs in Santa Barbara County that rely on the transportation network.

The resiliency assessment conducted as part of this project will identify potential “hotspots” where the network is vulnerable to these hazards and will identify resiliency strategies to minimize risk where possible. These strategies will be considered for incorporation into SBCAG’s long-range plan, the RTP-SCS, and will be monitored accordingly.

   Thomas Fire Mudflow @ U.S. 101 – January 2018
   (Image courtesy of Santa Barbara County Fire Department PIO)






Research and Data

SBCAG will work with a consultant to determine the appropriate tools and resources to complete the vulnerability assessment and resiliency strategies. Metrics to track progress will be considered for inclusion in the RTP-SCS.


A challenge associated with the assessment will be limiting it to the transportation network. There are a variety of hazards that will impact transportation assets, but inevitably, there are a variety of other assets that will be impacted by climate change impacts in our region (such as displacement of people and property, effects on agriculture, and economic impacts). Transportation network effects may pale in comparison to other, more direct impacts like those highlighted above. We hope to address these issues by collaborating with the members of the resiliency team on a regional level and leveraging our role as the MPO to bring the local jurisdictions together to discuss adaptation issues on a long-term basis pro-actively.  

Another challenge will be dealing with the potentially high costs of resiliency strategies, as many vital regional facilities in Santa Barbara County are located close to the ocean (such as U.S. 101, Union Pacific railroad, and the Santa Barbara Airport). Transportation infrastructure is under-funded and there are currently limited self-reliant or external long-term funding programs to address climate change adaptation impacts at the project-level.


The two key deliverables are:

  1. Multi-Modal Transportation Network Vulnerability Assessment: This effort will identify areas where climate change risks are likely to occur, which include sea level rise and associated risks (i.e., coastal erosion and storm surge), increased precipitation events and flooding, and increased large wildfire risk. The assessment will be location-specific, identifying where these risks are likely to occur at specific transportation infrastructure facilities (i.e, highways, roads, bridges, transit systems, airports, ports, rail facilities, and bike/pedestrian facilities).
  1. Recommendation of Adaptation Strategies & Climate Smart Transportation Network: This effort will review the vulnerability assessment results and determine appropriate adaptation strategies. Best practices that have been implemented locally, regionally, state-wide, or nationally to mitigate risks for similar facilities will be referenced and recommended for implementation. A Climate Smart Transportation Network for incorporation into the SBCAG Regional Transportation Plan-Sustainable Community Strategy will be considered. The Climate Smart Transportation Network will strive to incorporate nature-based improvements where climate change impacts are shown to potentially occur. A cost/benefit analysis of implementation of the Climate Smart Transportation Network, including co-benefits to sectors of public health, natural ecosystems, and social equity considerations will also be completed and considered for incorporation into the RTP-SCS.

Next steps will be determined at conclusion of study.


The process SBCAG will undertake will be able to be replicated by other MPOs or RTPAs across the state that wish to incorporate adaptation strategies into their long-range transportation plans.

Additional Resources

The following background material was used to develop SBCAG’s grant for the SB1 Adaptation Planning Program and is available for reference:

Further Information

For additional information regarding the resiliency assessment, contact:

Andrew Orfila, Principal Transportation Planner
Phone: (805) 961-8907