Increasing congestion in popular tourist destinations, inadequateto 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, according to a new study from the Washington-based American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). AASHTO's "Connecting Rural and Urban America" suggests using federal legislation to address the issues.
More investment is needed in America's rural transportation system to keep agriculture, new energy products and freight moving; improve access for travel, recreation and tourism industries; connect new and emerging cities; and ensure reliable access to key defense installations, according to AASHTO. "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 AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley. "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 address the problem through 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:
• During the next 30 years, 80 percent of the nation's population growth is expected to concentrate in the South and West.
• Sixty-six cities with populations of 50,000 or more — including one state capital — do not have immediate access to the Interstate system.
• In 2008, almost one out of eight people aged 65 and older lived in rural areas. That elderly population exceeds 9.6 million people and relies heavily on rural roads and systems for transportation.