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Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Photo: Screenshot.

Rural areas ‘vital’ to nation as Transportation Secretary Chao addresses funding disparity

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says the Trump administration is working to eliminate disparities in transportation funding between rural and urban areas. Chao was in St. Louis this week to unveil a new initiative aimed at addressing those infrastructure disparities that are a primary cause of rural areas having a higher fatality rate.

Chao, appearing as the keynote address at the annual American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials meeting, emphasized that the fatality rate on rural America roads is twice that of urban roads.

The main focus of her address was the high rate of traffic fatalities in rural America. Secretary Chao cites numerous transportation safety statistics. She also announced the formation of a rural transportation infrastructure council to lead this initiative. It will be called the ROUTES Council.

The disparity comes primarily because Democrat Congressional representatives in urban areas steer funds away from rural areas which end up being under-funded on highway and bridge improvement. Critics have said for years that cities are taking much-needed moneys for rural upgrades and spending those funds on urban bike trails and lanes and public transportation that is non self-supporting.

“Rural America, which has a disproportionately high rate of fatalities and is historically neglected, needs to have its transportation needs addressed,” Chao told the audience.

“Rural communities and their transportation networks are vital to our nation. 69 percent of the nation’s lane miles are in rural areas. Two-thirds of rail freight originates in rural areas. But rural transportation infrastructure is challenged by disparities. The disproportionate rate of crash fatalities in rural areas is especially alarming. 19 percent of Americans live in rural areas. Yet, 72 percent of large truck occupant fatalities, 67 percent of pickup occupant fatalities and 58 percent of SUV occupant fatalities occur in rural areas. The fatality rate on rural roads is twice that on urban roads,” Chao explained.

This new internal deliberative body at the Department will identify critical rural transportation concerns and will coordinate efforts among DOT’s different modal administrations. The Council will also create a rural resources handbook and will hold its first meeting in November.

–Dwight Widaman and wire services