America’s rural transportation system is in need of repairs and modernization to support economic growth in the nation’s Heartland, which is a critical source of energy, food and fiber. Rural America is home to an aging and increasingly diverse population that is heavily reliant on the quality of its transportation system. This is according to a new report released by TRIP.
The report, Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland, evaluates the safety and condition of the nation’s rural roads and bridges and finds that the nation’s rural transportation system is in need of improvements to address deficient roads and bridges, high crash rates, and inadequate connectivity and capacity.
The report finds that the nation’s rural roads and bridges have significant deficiencies. Fifteen percent of U.S. rural roads are rated in poor condition, while 21 percent are in mediocre condition. Sixteen percent of the nation’s rural roads are in fair condition and the remaining 48 percent are in good condition. Ten percent of the nation’s rural bridges are rated as structurally deficient, meaning there is significant deterioration to the major components of the bridge.
In addition to deteriorated roads and bridges, the TRIP report finds that traffic crashes and fatalities on rural non-Interstate roads are disproportionately high, occurring at a rate more than two-and-a-half times higher than on all other roads. In 2015, non-Interstate rural roads had a traffic fatality rate of 2.18 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel, compared to a fatality rate on all other roads of 0.83 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles of travel. The number of fatalities and the fatality rate on rural, non-Interstate U.S. roads increased in 2105 after decreasing each year between 2012 and 2014.
“Rural roads are far too often overlooked. With fatality rates rising, repairing and maintaining the nation’s roads must be a top priority for legislators,” said Kathleen Bower, AAA senior vice president of public affairs and international relations. “By investing in improvements for today and tomorrow, we can deliver safer experiences for motorists and save tens of thousands of lives.”
The quality of life in America’s small communities and rural areas, and the health of the nation’s rural economy, is highly reliant on the quality of the nation’s transportation system, particularly its roads, highways and bridges. America’s rural transportation system provides the first and last link in the supply chain from farm to market, connects manufacturers to their customers, supports the tourism industry, and enables the production of energy, food and fiber. Rural Americans are more reliant on the quality of their transportation system than their urban counterparts.
“Farmers and ranchers depend on rural roads, highways and bridges to move their products to market,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Transportation delays and costs take a bite out of our profitability and competitiveness and impact the quality of rural life. Securing the appropriate resources at the local, state and federal levels will allow for the improvements needed to provide a rural transportation system that will keep goods moving and foster economic growth.”
The TRIP report finds that the U.S. needs to implement transportation improvements that will improve rural transportation connectivity, safety and conditions to provide the nation’s small communities and rural areas with safe and efficient access to support quality of life and enhance economic productivity. The nation’s ability to address its rural transportation challenges will be greatly enhanced if Congress is able to provide a long-term, dedicated, user-based revenue stream capable of fully funding the federal surface transportation program.
“We applaud the president, the new administration and members of Congress for leading the conversation on an issue of critical importance to our 21st century economy: rebuilding America’s infrastructure,” said U.S. Chamber’s Executive Director for Transportation Infrastructure Ed Mortimer. “The American business community looks forward to developing and implementing a long-term plan that will bring our nation’s rural and urban infrastructure up to speed and spur economic growth. Now is the time to take action and to get the job done.”
Rural America is home to the vast majority of tourist destinations, many of which rely on good access. “Crumbling bridges, poorly maintained roads and congested highways discourage travel, threatening the entire U.S. economy,” said Erik Hansen, vice president of government relations for the U.S. Travel Association. “Lawmakers have signaled their interest in finding solutions for America’s surface transportation, as evidenced in passage of the FAST Act and the formation of the NACTTI advisory board. However, far more is needed–and fast–to finish the job.”
Freight mobility and efficiency is fundamental to rural economic vitality and prosperity. “It’s time for our elected leaders to act. Investing in our rural roads will improve safety and efficiency on roadways that are vital to agricultural commerce. That is a top priority for our nation’s 3.2 million farmers, and the 320,000 Americans whose jobs are supported by the manufacturing of farm equipment,” said Robert B. Crain, senior VP & general manager, North and South America, AGCO Corporation.
“The safety and quality of life in America’s small communities and rural areas and the health of the nation’s economy ride on our rural transportation system. The nation’s rural roads and bridges provide crucial links from farm to market, move manufactured and energy products, and provide access to countless tourism, social and recreational destinations,” said Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP. “Fixing the federal Highway Trust Fund with a long-term, sustainable source of revenue that supports the transportation investment needed will be crucial to the modernization of our rural transportation system.”