The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) recently announced an important new initiative in support of the transportation needs of rural America (U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao Announces Major New Initiative to Support Rural Transportation Needs). The Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) Initiative will examine the discretionary funding and financing opportunities provided by USDOT to improve the transportation infrastructure in rural communities.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao announced the initiative at the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in St. Louis, Missouri. “Rural America, which has a disproportionately high rate of fatalities and is historically neglected, needs to have its transportation needs to be addressed,” Chao said.
Throughout our nation’s history, the transportation networks in rural communities have served a vital role in the growth of urban areas, transporting people to cities and delivering goods produced by foundational American industries like agriculture and manufacturing. However, a commitment to rural transportation infrastructure must overcome serious challenges.
In the United States, over 70 percent of road miles and 90 percent of bridges posted for weight limits are located in rural areas. Although only 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas, rural traffic deaths accounted for 46 percent of American traffic fatalities in 2018.
The new ROUTES Initiative will assist rural stakeholders in applying for USDOT grants and financing products, as well as collecting and analyzing data in order to assess the costs and benefits of rural transportation projects. The initiative will supplement the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) Loan Program’s Rural Project Initiative, which offers lower loan eligibility thresholds and subsidized interest rates and fees to rural infrastructure projects.
To spearhead the initiative, USDOT created the ROUTES Council to identify significant rural transportation concerns and coordinate the efforts of the various rural transportation interests. Although much work remains to be done, it is a positive step for the federal government to allocate its resources to the development of critical transportation infrastructure in rural states like Missouri.
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