U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao announced this week the creation of a major new initiative to support transportation needs in rural America. The initiative, known as the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) Initiative, will analyze the Department’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,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.
Rural communities and their transportation networks have been instrumental in building and supplying urban areas throughout our nation’s history, carrying people from city-to-city and carrying freight from bedrock American industries such as agriculture, mining, forestry, and manufacturing. Yet rural transportation infrastructure has significant challenges. Over 70% of America’s road miles are in rural areas. While one-fifth of Americans live in rural areas, rural America’s traffic fatalities are disproportionately high, totaling 46% of fatalities in 2018. Further, of the nation’s bridges that are posted for weight limits, 90 percent are in rural areas.
The new ROUTES Initiative will address these challenges by assisting rural stakeholders in understanding how to access DOT grants and financing products, and developing data-driven approaches to better 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. The Department will engage rural transportation stakeholders at events over the coming year to educate project sponsors about the funding and finance opportunities at DOT, as well as to receive their feedback.
Secretary Chao also announced the formation of a rural transportation infrastructure council, the ROUTES Council, to lead the way on this initiative. This new internal deliberative body at the Department will identify critical rural transportation concerns and coordinate efforts among DOT’s different modal administrations. The Council will initially review public comments and create a rural resources handbook, holding its first meeting in November 2019.
Learn more about the ROUTES Initiative here.