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Report: Rural Highways Lack Funding


According to a new report, "Connecting Rural and Urban America," more investment is needed in America's rural transportation system to keep agriculture, new energy products, and freight moving

According to a new report, "Connecting Rural and Urban America," more investment is needed in America's rural transportation system to keep agriculture, new energy products, and freight moving; to improve access for the travel, recreation, and tourism industries; to connect new and emerging cities; and to ensure reliable access to key defense installations.

"Improving connectivity and mobility for the 60 million Americans who live in rural areas is just as important as improving mobility for those who live in metropolitan areas," says John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. "Rural states are essential to the nation's success, not only to meet the needs of their own citizens, but also to maintain their part of the national network on which the U.S. economy depends."

The AASHTO report offers a three-point plan to connect of rural and urban America that calls for federal transportation legislation to: continue to fund rural portions of the interstate highway system and other federal-aid highways; double federal investment in rural transit systems; and expand the existing capacity of the interstate system, upgrade rural routes to interstate standards, and connect newly urbanized areas to the interstate system.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Sixty-six cities with populations of 50,000 or moreóincluding one state capitalódo not have immediate access to the interstate system.
  • During the next 30 years, 80% of the nation's population growth is expected to concentrate in the South and West.
  • In 2008, almost one out of eight people 65 and older lived in rural areas. This elderly population exceeds 9.6 million people and relies heavily on rural roads and public transit systems for their transportation.
  • Many of the nation's most popular tourist destinationsóincluding ski slopes, seashores, and national parksóexperience significant traffic delays. Many of these destinations are not close to interstate or National Highway System routes.


"Arkansas is a rural state with many more highway needs than funds to meet those needs," says Dan Flowers, director of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department and president of Southeastern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. "We have over 16,000 highway miles in our system--12th largest state highway system in the nation. While nationally there are cities with populations over 50,000 that are not served by an interstate, we have a city of 20,000 not even connected to an interstate with a four-lane highway--El Dorado."

The report also finds that rural economic development efforts depend on access to interstate and National Highway System routes.

"Luring job-creators to Kansas, such as the Siemens plant in Hutchinson that will manufacture wind turbine generators and the National Bio-Agro Facility at Manhattan, we welcome additions that will create hundreds of jobs. But, they will create capacity issues for our infrastructure, as well," says Kansas Transportation Secretary Deb Miller.

"Connecting Rural and Urban America" is the third in a series of reports generated by AASHTO to identify the need to increase transportation system's capacity. For more information and to see state examples of rural capacity needs, go to ExpandingCapacity.transportation.org.