WASHINGTON — Rising congestion in popular tourist destinations, inadequate roads to serve growing agricultural and energy output, and emerging cities that are not connected to the Interstate system all require immediate attention and investment to ensure that America’s rural areas stay connected. Yet too often policy discussions overlook the need to improve connectivity mobility outside metropolitan areas.
According to “Connecting Rural and Urban America,” a new report released yesterday at news conferences held in Little Rock, Ark., and Wichita, Kan., more investment is needed in America’s rural transportation system to keep agriculture, new energy products and freight moving; improve access for the travel, recreation, and tourism industries; connect new and emerging cities; and to ensure reliable access to key defense installations.
“Improving connectivity and mobility for the 60 million Americans who live in rural areas is just as important as improving mobility for those who live in metropolitan areas,” said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “Rural states are essential to the nation’s success, not only to meet the needs of their own citizens, but also to maintain their part of the national network on which the U.S. economy depends.”
The AASHTO report offers a three-point plan to ensure the connectivity of rural and urban America. In any reauthorization of federal transportation legislation: Continue to fund rural portions of the Interstate Highway System and other Federal-aid highways that connect America; double federal investment in rural transit systems to meet rising demand and expand the existing capacity of the Interstate system; upgrade rural routes to Interstate standards; and, connect newly urbanized areas to the Interstate system.
Key findings from the report include:
• Sixty-six cities with populations of 50,000 or more – including one state capital – do not have immediate access to the Interstate system.
• During the next 30 years, 80% of the nation’s population growth is expected to concentrate in the South and West.
• In 2008, almost one out of eight people aged 65 and older lived in rural areas. This elderly population exceeds 9.6 million people and relies heavily on rural roads and public transit systems for their transportation.
• Many of the nation=’s most popular tourist destinations – including ski slopes, seashores, and national parks – experience significant traffic delays. Many of these destinations are not close to Interstate or National Highway System routes.
AASHTO president and Mississippi Department of Transportation executive director Larry L. “Butch” Brown said, “In Mississippi, we’re fortunate to have waterways, ports, highways, and rail, but we must ensure that all rural states have good transportation options that will enable them to generate jobs and create strong economic growth.”
The report also finds that rural economic development efforts depend on access to interstate and National Highway System routes.
“Connecting Rural and Urban America” is the third in a series of reports generated by AASHTO to identify the need to increase capacity in our transportation system to unlock gridlock, generate jobs, deliver freight and connect rural and urban America.