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Rural Roads Risking Lives, Livelihoods

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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“Significant deficiencies and high fatality rates” are exacting a deadly toll on rural U.S. roads and bridges, with crashes and death rates nearly three times higher than on all other roads, a new report shows.

The problems are jeopardizing safety in regions that are home to nearly 50 million Americans and underpin a significant part of the U.S. economy, according to “Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America's Heartland," released this month by a national transportation research group called TRIP.

VT bridge in need of repair
sanders.senate.gov

Rural bridges are showing "significant deficiencies" that cause crashes and claim lives, TRIP reports.

The rural transportation system, which supports the agriculture, energy and tourism sectors, "is in need of modernization to address deficient roads and bridges, high crash rates, and inadequate connectivity and capacity," TRIP said in an announcement about the report.

Rural counties are defined as those that lack an urban area of at least 50,000 people or lack a large commuting flow to an urban county.

Crashes and Deaths

Crashes and fatalities are disproportionately high on rural U.S. roads, the report found. In 2012, non-interstate roads recorded a traffic fatality rate of 2.21 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel, compared to a rate of 0.78 deaths on all roads.

"Rural traffic fatality rates remain stubbornly high, despite a substantial decrease in the number of overall fatalities," TRIP reported.

Dire States tour
farmweeknow.com

The Dire States campaign last year sought to draw attention to failing rural infrastructure, like this northern Illinois bridge, which had been closed since collapsing in 2008, leaving a 16.7-mile detour.

Crashes on rural, non-interstate roads accounted for nearly half of the nation's 33,561 traffic deaths in 2012, the report said. Texas led U.S. states in the number of rural traffic deaths in 2012, followed by California, North Carolina, Florida and South Carolina.

The highest death rate, however, was recorded in South Carolina, followed by Florida, West Virginia, Texas and Arkansas.

Deficiencies

Rural roads and bridges also have "significant deficiencies," TRIP said.

In 2012, 15 percent of major rural roads were rated in poor condition, and 40 percent were rated mediocre or fair, the report said.

In 2013, 12 percent of rural bridges were rated structurally deficient, and 10 percent were deemed functionally obsolete. Connecticut led the U.S. states with the greatest percentage (35 percent) of major rural roads in poor condition in 2012; Pennsylvania and Rhode Island tied for the highest percentage (25 percent) of structurally deficient bridges that year.

Some of those problems are due to inconsistent and dangerous design features: steep slopes, limited shoulders, limited clear zones, narrow lanes, sharp curves and pavement drop-offs. Nearly one in four rural roads have lane widths of 10 feet or less, the report said.

Farms, Ranchers and Oil

The heartland's infrastructure conditions have major economic implications for the entire U.S., officials say.

“America’s rural transportation system is an integral component to the success and quality of life for U.S. farmers and ranchers,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Increased agricultural production—from $297 billion in 2007 to $395 billion in 2012—has drastically ramped up traffic loads on the system, TRIP says. Trucks carry more than 90 percent of perishable agricultural products in the U.S.

TX trucks on rural road
TWC News

Roads and bridges in Nixon, TX, and other rural areas are carrying vehicle loads and volumes never intended in the wake of the energy extraction boom in recent years.

Meanwhile, significant additional vehicle weight and volume are coming from the recent boom in shale, oil and gas fields in numerous rural areas whose roads and bridges were not built to carry such loads, the report says.

The average travel per-lane mile by large trucks on major, non-arterial rural roads in the U.S. has increased by 16 percent from 2000 to 2012.

Americans have also become more dependent on road and bridge infrastructure with the abandonment of more than 100,000 miles of rail lines in recent decades, mostly in rural areas, the report says. Connectivity is especially poor in the West.

Call to Action

TRIP used the report results to add its voice to the chorus of transportation advocacy groups calling for renewed funding of the federal Highway Trust Fund. A Department of Transportation ticker is tracking the fund's impending insolvency.

Without Congressional action, the fund, supported by the 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax, is set to go bankrupt this week, ending federal funding for infrastructure projects nationwide.

On the eve of its summer recess, the Senate was reviewing several measures Tuesday (July 29) to address the shortfall.

A new cash management plan involving restrictions on the Trust Fund is set to begin Friday (Aug. 1).

TRIP chart
TRIP

 

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Construction; Government; Government contracts; Maintenance programs; Rehabilitation/Repair; Roads/Highways

Comment from John Fauth, (7/30/2014, 8:18 AM)

The first law of holes states that when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. I suggest we have add "the first law of transportation"... when you can't afford to maintain the roads and bridges that have already been built, stop building more.


Comment from M. Halliwell, (7/30/2014, 11:44 AM)

If they are using "non-interstate" roads in counties without a 50,000+ population centre to define rural roads, then sure, I can see why this is the case. Locals driving well above the speed limit because they've driven the road "a million times" and "know it like the back of their hand", drunks trying to avoid being pulled over, different design parameters due to lower speed limits,. gravel surfacing and, yes, lesser maintenance will all contributeto a higher mortality rate. THe statistics are not surprising in the least to me, but I highly doubt they can be blamed solely on maintenance issues.


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