Rural America’s Vital Road Needs “Overlooked”
By John Latta, Tina Grady Barbaccia and Mike Anderson
Politicians and planners involved in “policy discussions” about future transportation funding and development are overlooking the people of rural America. So says John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
“The people who live in rural areas rely on commercial trucks, cell phones, and the Internet just as much as any city dweller. Yet many of our highways that serve rural areas were built back in the 1960s. Why do we expect our modern society to run on an archaic transportation system? We need a transportation system that works for the entire country of today – not one that struggles just to keep up with yesterday,” says Horsley
According to Connecting Rural and Urban America, a new AASHTO report, more investment is needed in America’s rural transportation system to keep agriculture, new energy products and freight moving, to improve access for the travel, recreation and tourism industries, to connect new and emerging cities, and to ensure reliable access to key defense installations.
“Improving connectivity and mobility for the 60 million Americans who live in rural areas is just as important as improving mobility for those who live in metropolitan areas,” says Horsley. “Rural states are essential to the nation’s success, not only to meet the needs of their own citizens, but also to maintain their part of the national network on which the U.S. economy depends.”
The report also finds that existing businesses and industries, and rural economic development efforts, depend on access to Interstate and National Highway System routes. Expansion of rural capacity is important for economic development efforts that depend on access to these routes. Sixty-six cities with populations of 50,000 or more, including one state capital (Jefferson City, Mo..), do not have immediate access to the Interstate system.
Because of the uncertainty about funding in a new long-term reauthorization bill, highway projects that would expand rural capacity have greatly decreased.
One example. “Luring job-creators to Kansas – such as the Siemens plant in Hutchinson that will manufacture wind turbine generators and the National Bio-Agro Facility at Manhattan – are welcome additions that will create hundreds of jobs,” said Kansas Transportation Secretary Deb Miller. “But they will create capacity issues for our infrastructure, as well.”
Kansas’ short-line railroads haul an average of 175,000 carloads of goods throughout the state every year, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation. With increased congestion, trucks and freight trains can’t deliver their goods and people can’t get to their jobs, which creates lost time and wasted money, Miller said. AASHTO’s report predicts increased trade between Canada and the United States will require states to expand their highway and transportation options or risk overloading the system and causing more even more congestion.
To resolve these concerns, the AASHTO report offers a plan to ensure the connectivity of rural and urban America: In any reauthorization of federal transportation legislation, Congress should continue to fund rural portions of the Interstate Highway System and other federal-aid highways that connect America. It should also double federal investment in rural transit systems to meet rising demand. And it should also expand the existing capacity of the interstate system, upgrade rural routes to interstate standards, and connect newly-urbanized areas to the interstate system. v
From the report:
According to a 2007 study of Future Options for the Interstate Highway System, 30,000 lane-miles should be added to the interstate system to meet rural needs, including:
Expanding the existing rural Interstate Highway
System by 16,000 lane-miles;
Upgrading rural National Highway System routes to interstate standards, an addition of 2,000 lane-miles; and
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