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More investment is needed in America's rural transportation system to keep freight moving, not least of which involves agriculture and new energy products, according to a report from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
"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 AASHTO. "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."
In addition, the "Connecting Rural and Urban America" report said, investment and infrastructure improvements are needed to improve access for the travel, recreation, and tourism industries; to connect new and emerging cities; and to ensure reliable access to key defense installations.
AASHTO offers a three-point plan to ensure the connectivity of rural and urban America. In any reauthorization of federal transportation legislation:
1) Continue to fund rural portions of the interstate system and other federal-aid highways that connect America;
2) Double federal investment in rural transit systems to meet rising demand; and
3) 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 percent 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 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.
Economic development agencies' efforts to attract business depend in part on availability of good roads. But existing businesses and industries also depend on a well-functioning rural highway system.
"Rural roads are critically important to the success of our industry," said Marvin Childers, president of The Poultry Federation. "Getting feed delivered to our farms and the chickens, turkeys and eggs delivered from the farms to our processing plants in a timely manner must take place for our industry to succeed. Trucking is a critical mode of transportation for rural America. It carries 70 percent of agricultural and food products and provides the link between farmers, manufacturers, processors and markets. We cannot survive without a quality transportation system. Improving and keeping our transportation infrastructure in good repair is very, very important to the economy of this region."
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