A new report from TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research organization, found that the U.S. rural transportation system has significant gaps, high accident rates, and inadequate connectivity and capacity.
According to the report, “Rural Connections: Examining the Safety, Connectivity, Condition and Funding Needs of America’s Rural Roads & Bridges,” America’s rural roads and bridges face a $180 billion funding backlog for needed repairs and improvements. .
The report looked at the percentage of rural roads in poor condition, the percentage of rural bridges deemed to be deficient, rural road fatality rates, and the number of rural road fatalities. The researchers found that the rural transport system faces a number of challenges, including insufficient capacity; inadequate connectivity; and an inability to support the transport of goods.
Among its findings was that traffic accidents and fatalities on rural non-interstate roads are twice as high as on all other roads. In 2020, rural non-interstate highways had a road fatality rate of 2.17 fatalities per 100 million vehicle kilometers traveled (VMT), compared to 1.09 fatalities per VMT on all other highways. Non-interstate rural roads carried 23% of all vehicle trips in 2020, but recorded 38% of all road deaths. The researchers said the higher fatality rate can be attributed to rural road conditions such as narrower lanes, limited shoulders, sharper curves, exposed hazards and grade drops.
“Road safety countermeasures such as median cable barriers, rumble strips, and guardrails are among the most cost-effective ways to prevent traffic accidents and save lives when they do occur,” said Jake Nelson, director of road safety research and advocacy at AAA. “At a time when our country is seeing record numbers of road deaths, investments in transportation should prioritize reducing traffic injuries where we can have the greatest impact: rural roads.”
The report found that 12% of rural US roads are rated in poor condition, while 19% are in poor condition. In addition, 8% of rural bridges in the country are classified as poor/structurally deficient. Bridges rated as poor or structurally deficient are often posted for lower weight or closed to traffic, restricting or redirecting large vehicles, including farm equipment, commercial trucks, school buses, and emergency service vehicles.
The researchers said rural Americans depend more on the quality of their transportation system, with vehicle trips in rural communities being on average about 50% higher than in urban communities.
The report also revealed that rural roads, highways and bridges face a backlog of $180 billion in needed repairs and improvements, including $109 billion for the rehabilitation of rural roads and highways, $35 billion for the rehabilitation of rural bridges and $36 billion for the improvement of rural roads.
The bipartisan Infrastructure Act (BIL) passed in November 2021 will provide $454 billion over five years to improve U.S. transportation infrastructure, including $2 billion for the Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program that supports transportation. improvement and expansion of surface transport infrastructure in rural areas.