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USDOT Releases Toolkit for Rural Opportunities

Friday, August 7, 2020

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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao unveiled late last week the Applicant Toolkit for the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success Initiative from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The toolkit is the latest in the effort by the Department to improve rural access to federal grant funds. According to USDOT, the toolkit aims to provide “user-friendly information and resources to enhance rural applicants’ familiarity with the Department’s discretionary grant programs and the funding process.”

The Department notes that while one-fifth of Americans live in rural areas, 70% of America’s road miles are in rural areas, carrying nearly 50% of the nation’s truck traffic. In addition, 44% of automobile travel on rural roads is done by metropolitan-area citizens, and rural America’s traffic fatalities are disproportionately high, with a fatality rate twice that of urban areas.

The new ROUTES toolkit aims to address challenges such as resources and funding by illustrating key applicant requirements and cataloguing discretionary grant programs by applicant type and eligible project activities.

The Toolkit also provides resources for applicants to maximize the potential for award success.

Rural Initiative

Chao announced the launch of the ROUTES initiative in October, saying that it will take a look at discretionary funding as well as financing opportunities. The announcement was made at the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials in St. Louis.

“Rural America, which has a disproportionately high rate of fatalities and is historically neglected, needs to have its transportation needs addressed,” said Chao at the time.

In order to address these needs, ROUTES will facilitate access to DOT funding, as well as develop “data-driven approaches to better assess needs and benefits of rural transportation projects.” The initiative will also build on the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Loan Program’s Rural Project Initiative, which also provides financial opportunities such as lower cost thresholds for loan eligibility.

Chao also announced at the time the formation of the ROUTES council, which will spearhead the initiative. The council will help identify concerns and help coordinate efforts amongst the DOT’s administrations.

Funding

Despite the push, national transportation research nonprofit TRIP (Washington, D.C.) released a report earlier this year evaluating the safety and condition of rural roads and bridges in the United States in relation to the nation’s current backlog and estimated decreases in funding to be experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report—Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland—contains data for all 50 states, breaking down the percentage of rural roads in poor condition, the percent of deficient rural bridges, rural traffic fatality rates and the number of rural traffic fatalities.

In analyzing the Status of the Nation’s Highways, Bridges and Transit, 23rd Edition (submitted by the U.S. Department of Transportation to Congress in 2019), TRIP found that the nation’s rural transportation system faces a $211 billion backlog in needed repairs and improvements.

In addition, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials estimates that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, states and local governments will also experience a loss of $50 billion—roughly 30%­­—in revenue from decreased travel over the course of the next 18 months.

Sean Pavone / Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao unveiled late last week the Applicant Toolkit for the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success Initiative from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Looking strictly at rural infrastructure, TRIP reports that on average, 8% of the nation’s rural bridges are structurally deficient and in poor condition. Like ARTBA’s report, TRIP also ranked the states based on their number of structurally deficient bridges and poor rural pavements, in addition to comparing fatality rates per 100 million vehicle miles traveled on rural non-interstate roads and other roads, among others.

The top 10 states in terms of most structurally deficient rural bridges include:

  • Rhode Island (22%);
  • West Virginia (21%);
  • Iowa (20%);
  • South Dakota (18%);
  • Pennsylvania (17%);
  • Louisiana (15%);
  • Maine (13%);
  • New York (12%);
  • Michigan (12%); and
  • North Dakota (11%).

In percentages of states with rural pavements in poor condition, Rhode Island also took top spot with 41%, with Oklahoma (36%), Hawaii (32%), West Virginia (29%) and New Mexico (28%) making up the rest of the top five.

The report also notes that rural, non-Interstate roads have a traffic fatality rate that is more than double than on all other roads. In 2018, non-Interstate rural roads had a traffic fatality rate of two deaths for every 100 million VMT, compared to a fatality rate of 0.88 deaths per 100 million VMT on all other roads.

These numbers accounted for 22% of all VMT in the U.S. in 2018. However, crashes on the nation’s rural, non-Interstate routes resulted in 40% (14,455 of 36,560) of the nation’s traffic fatalities in 2018.

Top states for this portion of the report include South Carolina—which had more than three times the number of accidents on rural roads than it did on all other roads—Oregon, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arizona.

In analyzing the report’s findings, TRIP suggests that the nation’s annual $28 billion investment by all levels of government in rural road, highway and bridge rehabilitation and enhancements be increased by 28%, to approximately $36 billion annually, to improve their condition, reliability and safety.

In addition, TRIP also suggests the need for adequate funding for the federal surface transportation program, pointing out that the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act expires Sept. 30 of this year.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Funding; Good Technical Practice; Government; Grants; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Roads/Highways

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