The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has created a new initiative to support transportation infrastructure needs of rural America. The Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) Initiative will see USDOT and its modal administrations reviewing discretionary funding and financing opportunities and improving data-driven consideration of rural infrastructure that can address transportation priorities such as safety, economic competitiveness and quality of life in rural communities.
More than 70 percent of road miles in the U.S. are in rural areas. USDOT says rural transportation networks have been instrumental in building and supplying urban areas, but infrastructure in these communities face significant challenges. The department notes one-fifth of Americans live in rural areas, but 46 percent of traffic fatalities occur in rural areas. Additionally, 90 percent of the nation’s bridges that are posted for weight limits are in rural areas.
“Rural America, which has a disproportionately high rate of fatalities and is historically neglected, needs to have its transportation needs addressed,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.
The ROUTES Initiative will build on USDOT’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) Loan Program’s Rural Project Initiative, which provides financing for rural infrastructure projects, to assist rural stakeholders in understanding how to access USDOT grants and financing products and developing data-driven approaches to better assess needs and benefits of rural transportation projects. The department will hold events over the coming year to educate project sponsors about the funding and finance opportunities at USDOT, as well as to receive their feedback.
The ROUTES Council has been formed to support the initiative. USDOT says this new internal deliberative body at the department will identify critical rural transportation concerns and coordinate efforts among USDOT’s different modal administrations including the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the Federal Rail Administration and Federal Aviation Administration. The council will initially review public comments and create a rural resources handbook, holding its first meeting in November 2019.