U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Mike Braun (R-Indiana), both members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, recently introduced the Rural Economic Infrastructure Equity Act of 2019, a bill to improve federal support for the transportation infrastructure needs of rural areas in the U.S.
According to Senator Durbin's office, in rural areas, 36% of roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and 10% of rural bridges are structurally deficient. This kind of poor infrastructure quality is said to impede economic development by straining businesses, commuters, and tourism.
Currently, programs to assist rural areas are handled by various offices and agencies throughout the U.S. DOT. Durbin and Braun’s bill would improve the coordination of existing rural infrastructure functions within U.S. DOT specifically by creating a new DOT Assistant Secretary for Rural Economic Investment and a new DOT Office of Rural Economic Investment.
The bill would specifically require stronger U.S. DOT outreach, education, and technical assistance to rural communities that qualify for federal transportation assistance, including assistance with planning and coordination to maximize the competitive advantages of their rural regions and avoid duplication of transportation investments.
It would also improve advocacy for rural communities within department operations when developing transportation policies and programs, establish a rural stakeholder consultation process when developing policies and regulations, and establish an outside Rural Advisory Council to advise on issues related to rural needs and make recommendations to improve rural equity in transportation investments.