U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao this week announced the creation of a new initiative to support transportation needs in rural areas around the country.
The initiative, known as the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) Initiative, will analyze the U.S. DOT’s discretionary funding and financing opportunities to ensure nationwide outcomes for rural communities’ transportation infrastructure.
Secretary Chao made the announcement during her remarks at the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in St. Louis, Missouri. “Rural America, which has a disproportionately high rate of fatalities and is historically neglected, needs to have its transportation needs addressed,” Secretary Chao said in a statement.
The U.S. DOT says that rural transportation infrastructure faces significant challenges, citing disproportionately higher traffic fatalities in rural areas at 46% of the total in 2018 despite only one-fifth of the nation living in rural areas. Additionally, the department points out that 90% of the nation's bridges that are posted for weight limits can be found in rural areas.
The new ROUTES Initiative is designed to address these challenges by assisting rural stakeholders in understanding how to access U.S. DOT grants and financial support, and developing stronger approaches to assess needs and benefits of rural transportation projects. This builds on the department’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) Loan Program’s Rural Project Initiative, which offers lower project-cost thresholds for loan eligibility, subsidized interest rates, and the coverage of fees to encourage use of the credit program for infrastructure projects in rural areas.
Secretary Chao also announced the formation of a rural transportation infrastructure council—the ROUTES Council—to lead this initiative. The council will identify critical rural transportation concerns and coordinate efforts among U.S. DOT’s different modal administrations.
SOURCE: U.S. DOT