The U.S. rural transportation system needs widespread improvements, said the TRIP national research group, "to address deficient roads and bridges, high crash rates, and inadequate connectivity and capacity."
In a new report titled,
"Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America's Heartland," TRIP said rural areas need highway system "repairs and modernization to support economic growth" in the nation's heartland.
It also tied that region's infrastructure to the national economy, noting that the rural heartland "is a critical source of energy, food and fiber" but is "home to an aging and increasingly diverse population that is
heavily reliant on the quality of its transportation system."
The report said 14 states have at least 20 percent of rural road pavements rated in poor condition, with several around 40 percent.
Nationwide, 15 percent of rural roads are rated as poor, TRIP said, while 21 percent are in mediocre condition, 16 percent are considered fair and 48 percent good.
And 10 percent of bridges on rural roads rated as structurally deficient, meaning that even though they are safe to use there is significant deterioration to major components that warrant repairs to avoid major reconstruction or having authorities limit weights of trucks or other heavy vehicles.
The report comes as the transportation industry awaits details of President Trump's promised infrastructure investment plan, and waits for his administration to begin awarding project grants that Congress has already funded for the current fiscal year.
In addition to deteriorated roads and bridges, TRIP's report found 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."
TRIP Executive Director Will Wilkins said: "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."
Wilkins targeted a major step to help address the infrastructure needs. "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," he said.
TRIP's press release included comments from some other stakeholder groups.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said "farmers and ranchers depend on rural roads, highways and bridges to move their products to market. 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."
"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, senior vice president of public affairs and international relations at the AAA motor club. "By investing in improvements for today and tomorrow, we can deliver safer experiences for motorists and save tens of thousands of lives."
Ed Mortimer, executive director for transportation infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said: "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. 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."
Mortimer added that "now is the time to take action and to get the job done."
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