ST. LOUIS – U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao today announced the creation of a new initiative to support transportation needs in rural America. The initiative, called the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) Initiative, will analyze the Transportation Department’s discretionary funding and financing opportunities to improve rural communities’ transportation infrastructure.
Chao made the announcement during her remarks at the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials.
“Rural America, which has a disproportionately high rate of fatalities and is historically neglected, needs to have its transportation needs addressed,” Chao said.
Rural communities and their transportation networks have been instrumental in building and supplying urban areas throughout our nation’s history and are of particular importance to industries such as agriculture, mining, forestry and manufacturing. 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% are in rural areas.
The ROUTES Initiative will assist rural stakeholders in understanding how to access DOT grants and financing products and will develop 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 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. DOT 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.
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 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.
Learn more about the ROUTES Initiative here.