The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) recently created an Applicant Toolkit (Toolkit) for use in the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) Initiative (U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao Announces Key Resource for Rural Communities). The initiative is part of an effort by the Trump Administration and USDOT to increase access to federal grant funds for rural communities.
The Toolkit provides information and resources in a user-friendly format to allow rural applicants to become familiar with USDOT’s discretionary grant programs and the processes for obtaining funding. “The ROUTES Applicant Toolkit will help rural communities better identify and navigate grant funding opportunities for rural transportation projects,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.
Transportation networks in rural areas have been crucial to building and supplying urban communities throughout American history, delivering people to cities and hauling freight from vital American industries, including agriculture, mining, forestry, and manufacturing. However, maintaining transportation infrastructure in rural areas presents significant challenges.
Although only 20% of Americans live in rural communities, 70% of road miles and nearly 50% of large truck traffic are in rural areas. Furthermore, 44% of rural automobile travel is done by urban drivers, rural roads have a fatality rate twice that of urban areas, and 90% of the nation’s bridges that are posted for weight limits are in rural areas.
Because discretionary grant applications are complex, resource-intensive, and require non-federal funding to cover a portion of project costs, many rural communities find it difficult to obtain funding. The new ROUTES Toolkit assists rural stakeholders in accessing USDOT’s grants and financing products. In particular, the Toolkit delineates key applicant requirements and organizes discretionary grant programs by applicant type and eligible project activities in order to maximize the potential for award success for rural communities.
Federal financial support for rural infrastructure projects is certainly needed and the new Toolkit will no doubt help communities in states like Kansas and Missouri obtain funding. It is unfortunate, however, that the transportation industry will not make improvements themselves without the need for federal funds.
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