Rebuilding Rural America

Investing in rural infrastructure helps strengthen the national economy

By U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao

Rural America is home to many of the nation’s most critical transportation assets, including heavily-used roads and bridges. Rural roads and bridges carry freight from bedrock American industries including agriculture, mining, forestry, and manufacturing. They also enable people to access rural destinations including National Parks and recreational opportunities.  Rural roads accommodate travel from city to city. Yet rural transportation infrastructure has long been overlooked and too often neglected.

Years of neglect have taken a toll on rural transportation networks. More than 36,000 bridges in rural areas have fallen into poor condition. Ninety percent of posted bridges with weight limits are in rural areas, which often requires heavy trucks transporting goods in rural areas to detour three times further. Safety is a serious concern —the traffic fatality rate on rural roads is twice that of metropolitan roads. Rural roadway safety matters for everyone – 44% of personal vehicle miles traveled on rural roadways are actually urban residents traveling to destinations outside their home metro areas.

For rural communities and their families, strong transportation networks contribute to achieving economic productivity, prosperity, and a better quality of life. Under this Administration, we’re taking steps to correct underinvestment in America’s heartland.

For rural communities and their families, strong transportation networks contribute to achieving economic productivity, prosperity, and a better quality of life. Under this Administration, we’re taking steps to correct underinvestment in America’s heartland.

Since day one of this Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation has worked to rebalance Federal infrastructure investment between metropolitan and rural areas. In October 2019, these efforts were formalized with the launch of the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) initiative, which brings together leaders and staff in key infrastructure modes – highways, aviation, transit, and railroads – to examine grant programs’ potential to better support the nation’s critical rural transportation infrastructure.

The Department also stood up a ROUTES Council to execute and manage the ROUTES initiative and to involve State DOTs, local and tribal governments, and national organizations. The objective is to improve analysis of rural projects that apply to receive DOT’s discretionary grants. It also serves as a helpful, centralized point of information for transportation officials and project sponsors serving rural areas.
In July 2020, the Department rolled out a ROUTES Applicant Toolkit. The Toolkit provides user-friendly information and resources to enhance rural applicants’ familiarity with the Department’s discretionary grant programs and the funding process. Specifically, the Toolkit illustrates key applicant requirements when participating in the Department’s discretionary grants processes. It also catalogues discretionary grant programs by applicant type and eligible project activities. Additionally, the Toolkit provides resources for applicants to maximize the potential for award success.

Our goal is to make more accessible an application process that can be burdensome and complicated – giving rural communities a level playing field when it comes to seeking federal grant funding to address local infrastructure needs.

This renewed focus on rural America is having a meaningful impact in communities across the country. Because of these initiatives, this Administration has directed substantially more federal grant funds to rural projects, primarily through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) discretionary grant program. Prior to this Administration, only 21% of similar discretionary grant program funding was awarded to rural areas. Under this Administration, special consideration has been given to projects that emphasize improved access to reliable, safe, and affordable transportation for rural communities. As a result, until Congress mandated equal funding to urban and rural areas, this Administration awarded 62% of worthy BUILD grant funds to rural areas because rural America has been overlooked and neglected. In total, since 2017, the Department has awarded more than $3.7 billion in funding to rural infrastructure projects.

Rural America isn’t looking for a handout, they’re just looking for their fair share. Every American benefits from rural transportation networks. Investing in rural infrastructure will strengthen our nation’s economy and improve quality of life for communities across the country.

Elaine Chao is the U.S. Transportation Secretary.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.