America’s rural transportation system is in need of repairs and modernization to support economic growth in the nation’s heartland, which is a critical source of energy, food and fiber. With increases in population and growing employment, rural America is heavily reliant on the quality of its transportation system to sustain further growth. This is according to a new report released by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit. The report, “Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland,” evaluates the safety and condition of the nation’s rural roads and bridges and finds that the nation’s rural transportation system is in need of immediate improvements to address deficient roads and bridges, high crash rates and inadequate connectivity and capacity. The chart below shows the states with the highest rate of rural pavements in poor condition, states with the highest share of rural bridges that are rated poor/structurally deficient, and states with the highest fatality rates on non-Interstate, rural roads.
The report finds that 21 percent of Pennsylvania’s rural roads are rated in poor condition – the twelfth highest rate in the nation - and 20 percent are rated in mediocre condition. Eighteen percent of Pennsylvania’s rural bridges are rated as poor/structurally deficient, the fourth highest share in the U.S. Bridges that are poor/structurally deficient have significant deterioration to the major components of the bridge and are often posted for lower weight or closed to traffic, restricting or redirecting large vehicles, including agricultural equipment, commercial trucks, school buses and emergency services vehicles. The rate of traffic fatalities on Pennsylvania’s non-Interstate, rural roads is the 20th highest in the nation and is nearly three times higher than the fatality rate on all other roads in the state – 2.18 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel vs. 0.79.
Doug Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, noted, “A sound transportation system is critical to the continued economic viability and quality of life in the commonwealth, without which we cannot get children to school, citizens to work or goods to market. Counties continue to stress the interrelatedness and interdependence of state, county and municipal infrastructure and transit systems.”
“Rural roads play a critical role in supporting the transportation needs of millions of Americans every day,” said Doni Lee Spiegel, PA AAA Federation public relations manager. “Damaged and deteriorating roadways too often result in deadly crashes, and it is time to act. Making critical safety improvements to rural roads will save thousands of lives each year and help move our economy forward.”
America’s rural transportation system provides the first and last link in the supply chain from farm to market, connects manufacturers to their customers, supports the tourism industry, and enables the production of energy, food and fiber. Rural Americans are more reliant on the quality of their transportation system than their urban counterparts.
“Lancaster County’s roadways and transportation network are vital to our businesses that depend on them to safely and efficiently move goods to market,” said Tom Baldrige, president & CEO, Lancaster Chamber. “Finding a long-term and sustainable solution for federal transportation funding is a critical piece in providing much needed investment in our rural networks and addressing the transportation infrastructure needs of communities across the country.”
The TRIP report finds that the U.S. needs to implement transportation improvements that will improve rural transportation connectivity, safety and conditions to provide the nation’s small communities and rural areas with safe and efficient access to support quality of life and enhance economic productivity.
“The health of the nation’s economy and the safety and quality of life in America’s small communities and rural areas ride on our rural transportation system. Our rural roads and bridges provide crucial links from farm to market, move manufactured and energy products, and provide access to countless tourism, social and recreational destinations,” said Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP. “Fixing the federal Highway Trust Fund with a long-term, sustainable source of revenue that supports the transportation investment needed will be crucial to the modernization of our rural transportation system.”
Note: This report contains data for all 50 states for the percentage of rural roads in poor condition, the percent of deficient rural bridges, rural traffic fatality rates and the number of rural traffic fatalities.