Climate change, from rising sea levels to dramatically more severe storms, has the potential to significantly impact historic and residential areas in Newport over the coming decades, according to a comprehensive Transportation Master Plan recently submitted to the City Council.

That Master Plan, the first in two decades, gives a comprehensive view of all things transportation – from the impact of climate change, trucks, parking, safety, and more.

WhatsUpNewp, over the next several weeks, will look at various aspects of the plan, summarizing the findings, and when available, highlighting the solutions.

The plan, “Keep Newport Moving,” is a collaboration of the city and state of Rhode Island. In its development, the framers consulted many constituencies to craft “a comprehensive, actionable strategy to make it safer and easier for people to navigate Newport’s historic street grid, no matter how they get around the city.”

The report makes clear the dangers of climate change, and its acceleration. Historic districts, and neighborhoods are all in the way of rapidly increasing and more severe storms, sea-level rise that could exceed three feet over the coming decades, and flooding.

Resiliency and Climate Change

A major section of the Transportation Master Plan is devoted to “Resiliency and Climate Change,” and for good reason. The report suggests that there have already been significant threats to the City’s infrastructure,” which are “expected to increase in the coming years.”

 According to the report, the University of Rhode Island has found that the sea level in Newport has increased by more than seven inches since 1930 and anticipates it to accelerate over the next “few decades” to a foot in less than 30 years, and by three to five feet in less than 80 years.

Besides sea level rise, the report says that climate scientists “have noted that the strongest hurricanes – categories four and five – are becoming more frequent and that hurricanes are intensifying more rapidly.

“Storm surge is already a threat in many areas around Newport. With more frequent and more severe storms in the future, as well as sea-level rise, this vulnerability will be exacerbated. Many of Newport’s greatest assets are vulnerable to storm surges, including many historic homes and the city’s signature scenic walks, bikes, and drives. This threat is expected to increase at an accelerating rate over the coming decades.” 

Climate change, the report says, also results in increased rainfall as “warmer air can hold more moisture and produce more rainfall.” The result – increased street flooding.

“With the high percentage of impervious surface in Newport’s urban core, urban stormwater systems can quickly get overwhelmed,” the report says. “High-intensity rainfall events can cause significant damage, and the sea level rise that has already happened can reduce the discharge rates, further exacerbating flooding.”

Wide Range of Strategies

The report says there is a wide range of strategies that can “mitigate” flooding, many of which are already being done in Newport, including “including disconnecting roof drains and sewers from the stormwater pipe network.”

 The report says that the public and stakeholders have defined areas most susceptible to flooding from a combination of sea-level rise, higher tides, and heavier rainfalls. Those areas include: 

  • The Bliss Road neighborhood 
  • The Pell School area on Dexter Street 
  • Wellington Avenue around Spencer Park 
  • The Point area and the northern end of 3rd St. 
  • Along Halsey, Garfield, Prescott Hall, exacerbated by Hurricane Ida 
  • The Downtown area 

Additionally, the report says that many dense residential areas, the entire Thames Street waterfront, the Pell Bridge landing area in the North End, and many key street connections are “vulnerable to sea-level rise of one, three, and five feet.” 

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal....