The Road Information Program (TRIP), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that researches and publicizes critical data on surface transportation issues, released a new study entitled “Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland.” The research shows that rural America needs infrastructure upgrades just like the rest of the country.
The difference is that basic commodities, such as food and grain, travel rural roads to get to market, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, improved roads can mean better prices for farming inputs such as fertilizer and seed. Lower farming input costs could therefore translate into better food prices for consumers.
Facts from the study can serve as talking points and content for letters to elected officials who oversee infrastructure funding:
- Rural America – “all places and people living in areas outside of urban areas with a population of 5,000 or greater” – is where most of our food is produced. Rural America has 50 million residents (17 percent of the total U.S. population), 83 percent of U.S. land, and almost all of the 2.2 million farms.
- Most agricultural products go to market on trucks, and better, wider roads make a difference. Trucks account for 91 percent of the “ton-miles of all fruit, vegetables, livestock, meat, poultry, and dairy products in the U.S.”
- Annual U.S. agricultural value is $2.2 trillion. Farming provides only six percent of all U.S. jobs, but seven more jobs result from each of those in other facets of agribusiness. Better roads for the six percent mean better quality of life for the rest of us.
- Poor rural road design, narrower lanes, limited shoulders, sharp curves and other deficiencies help make the rate of fatalities on rural roads three times higher than all other roads. To illustrate: Lane width for arterial roads should be at least 11 ft., but in rural areas width is often 10 ft. or less. And there are some wide agriculture vehicles on the roads in rural America.
- Rural roadways provide “the first and last link in the supply chain from farm to market and other retail outlets.” And the quality of rural American life is “based largely on the production of energy, food and fiber, and is highly reliant on the quality of the nation’s transportation system.”
- In 2010, 13 percent of our rural bridges were structurally deficient and 10 percent were functionally obsolete.
A point not fully raised in the TRIP study is worth noting: the world's population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050, and U.S. production agriculture will have a major role to play in supplying food. That role demands modernized transportation systems.