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DOT Focuses on Rural Mobility Initiatives

Friday, January 31, 2020

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During the World Economic Forum last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced ongoing mobility initiatives that the Department of Transportation plans to implement in rural and urban communities.

“This is of special concern because safety is the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Number One priority,” Chao wrote. “So, it’s vitally important not only to growth and competitiveness but to safety, that the transportation and infrastructure needs of rural communities be addressed.”

According to Transportation.gov, 69% of highway lane miles run through rural areas with 46% of total highway fatalities occurring on rural roads—double the percentage of fatalities that occur on urban roadways.

To break down the fatalities experienced on rural roads: 72% are large truck occupant fatalities, 67% are pickup occupant fatalities and 58% of SUV occupant fatalities.

Rural Initiatives

To push focus on rural transportation, the Department is looking to apply the Rural Project Initiative Implementation and The Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success to help create a more inclusive transportation network.

CreativeNature_nl / Getty Images

During the World Economic Forum last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced ongoing mobility initiatives that the Department of Transportation plans to implement in rural and urban communities.

In the Rural Project Initiative Implementation, more sponsors will be more able to utilize the Department’s major loan program for infrastructure projects in rural communities. The loan program is reported to offer generous financing and loan repayment terms. The initiative is still currently being implemented.

As for ROUTES, its focus will instead be on how rural communities can improve data sharing and analysis in order to better understand the area’s specific transportation needs. This initiative will be overseen by a ROUTES Council, which will help to rebalance DOT discretionary grants and help ensure better access to federal transportation grant funding and loan programs. ROUTES will also focus on addressing public transportation in rural areas as well.

“Addressing rural-urban transportation disparities will help ensure a more inclusive transportation network for the future,” Chao said. “That’s a goal that all countries can and should incorporate into their national transportation plans.”

Other DOT Funding & Grants Programs

Last year in April, the USDOT announced a Notice of Funding Opportunity totaling $900 million in grants through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grants program in order to shift focus on more rural infrastructure projects.

Projects covered under BUILD are evaluated based on “safety, economic competitiveness, quality of life, environmental protection, state of good repair, innovation, partnership and additional non-federal revenue for future transportation infrastructure investments,” according to the DOT.

To support the Administration’s efforts to rebalance rural America from previous under-investments, the U.S. DOT plans to award up to 50% of BUILD grants located in rural areas that align with the selection criteria.

In September, USDOT announced $225 million in grant funding for a number of road and bridge projects in rural areas, a move that was part of the Competitive Highway Bridge Program. Funding was geared toward projects in states with fewer than 100 people per square mile; only 25 states ended up meeting these qualifications. Additionally, the funding needed to be used on highway bridge replacement or rehabilitation projects on public roads that bundle at least “two highway bridge projects into a single contract.”

The largest grant, totaling $33.4 million, went to the Iowa DOT for the improvement of 77 bridges that ranked in poor or fair condition. Currently, nearly 20% of the state’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient.

The following month, Chao announced information about the ROUTES initiative for the first time at the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials in St. Louis. The initiative planned to build on the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Loan Program’s Rural Project Initiative, which provides financial opportunities such as lower cost thresholds for loan eligibility.

Since the announcement, the Department hosted events in order to help educate project sponsors about funding opportunities.

In November, USDOT awarded $900 million in Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grants to 55 projects across 35 states, emphasizing that 50% of the grant funding went to projects in rural areas.

Six projects in total won the maximum $25 million grant amount, including: a highway interchange in Aurora, Colorado; bridge work in Providence, Rhode Island; road reconstruction in Houston; a marine terminal in Anchorage, Alaska; dam mitigation and a recreation trail in Des Moines, Iowa; and the replacement of a bridge in Augusta, Maine.

According to the Engineering News-Record, the roads category received the highest amount of funding, totaling 38 grants. Additionally, six transit projects won 10.9% of the total funding, three railing projects won 5.5% and one aviation project won 1.8%.

   

Tagged categories: Department of Transportation (DOT); DOT; Funding; Government; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Roads/Highways; Transportation

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