America’s rural heartland is home to approximately 50 million people and its natural resources provide the primary source of the energy, food and fiber that supports the nation’s economy and way of life. But, according to a new report, the roads and bridges that serve and connect the nation’s rural areas face a number of significant challenges. These include:
- Inadequate capacity to handle the growing levels of traffic and commerce.
- Limited connectivity.
- The inability to accommodate growing freight travel.
- Deteriorated road and bridge conditions.
- A lack of desirable safety features, and
- A traffic fatality rate far higher than all other roads and highways.
The report, “Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland,” was released by The Road Information Program (TRIP), a national non-profit transportation research group based in Washington, D.C. It defines Rural America as all places and people living outside the primary daily commuting zones of cities with 50,000 people or more.
The following recommendations by TRIP for an improved rural transportation system are based partially on findings and recommendations made recently by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the National Highway Cooperative Research Program (NCHRP), the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the Ports-to-Plains Alliance.
Improve access and connectivity in America’s small communities and rural areas.
- Widen and extend key highway routes, including Interstates, to increase connectivity to smaller and emerging communities to facilitate access to jobs, education and healthcare while improving access for agriculture, energy, manufacturing, forestry, tourism and other critical segments of the rural economy.
- The NCHRP report found that the construction of an additional 30,000 lane miles of limited access highways, largely along existing corridors, is needed to address the nation’s need for increased rural connectivity.
- Modernize major two-lane roads and highways so they can accommodate increased personal and commercial travel.
- Improve public transit service in rural America to provide improved access for people without access to private vehicles, including older people.
Improve rural traffic safety.
- Adequately fund needed rural roadway safety improvements and provide enhanced enforcement, education and improved emergency response to reduce the rate of rural traffic fatalities.
- Implement cost-effective roadway safety improvements, including rumble strips, shoulder improvements, lane widening, curve reductions, skid resistant surfaces at curves, passing lanes, intersection improvements and improved signage, pavement markings and lighting, guardrails and barriers, and improved shielding of obstacles.
Improve the condition of rural roads, highways and bridges.
- Adequately fund local and state transportation programs to insure sufficient preservation of rural roads, highways and bridges to maintain transportation service and also to accommodate large truck travel, which is needed to support the rural economy.