Due to concerns about a lack of progress in reauthorizing the federal transportation bill, rural states have organized an effort to make their needs known. The Council of State Governments has released a new Capitol Research brief—called Rural Transportation Needs—that takes a hard look at what rural states are facing when it comes to transportation. While some of the needs are the same as large cities, such as ways to deal with traffic congestion and a lack of highway capacity, there are several areas of concern that are unique to rural areas.
“Road safety is a big issue in rural areas,” said Sean Slone, CSG’s senior transportation policy analyst. “Fifty-six percent of highway deaths happen on rural roads, yet many of those roads are not eligible for federal highway funding to improve safety. That leaves local governments, who may not have the funding or the expertise about road safety improvements, to deal with the issue.”
The Research Brief explains why alternative forms of funding are problematic for rural states and communities. Toll roads, for example, wouldn’t raise sufficient funding due to insufficient volume—unless tolls were set very high. In that case, motorists would likely divert to other roads. For the same reasons, private companies would not be able to get a return on investment from funding toll road projects in these areas as part of public-private partnerships. Charging motorists a fee for each mile they travel—rather than each gallon of gas they buy— would also be problematic for rural states because of the long distances residents must often travel.
The Brief concludes that a new federal authorization bill should offer rural states proportionate funding growth, increased funding, greater flexibility on the use of federal funds and more programs like Build America Bonds, which stand to benefit both urban and rural areas.