DOT Launches New ROUTES Initiative To Improve
Rural Transportation

Author: Jerry Ashworth, Editor, Thompson Grants a division of CBIS

Here in the D.C. area, driving on often congested urban highways, it can be easy for one to forget that there is a whole country of rural roads out there that are vital transportation corridors but have their own challenges with which to contend. For example, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT), more than 70% of our nation’s road miles are in rural areas, and while only one-fifth of the American population lives in rural areas, rural traffic fatalities are disproportionately high, totaling 46% of fatalities in 2018. Further, 90% of posted (i.e., limited weight) bridges are in rural areas and heavy trucks cannot cross these bridges. To find a safe bridge, heavy trucks hauling in rural areas must travel three-times the distance as in metro areas.

To address these concerns, DOT has launched a new initiative — the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) Initiative — to support rural transportation needs. Under this initiative, DOT will assess its discretionary funding and financing opportunities to improve nationwide outcomes for rural communities’ transportation infrastructure. DOT will assist 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.

The initiative builds on DOT’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 meet with 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.

The initiative will be led by the newly-created ROUTES Council, chaired by the DOT Undersecretary for Transportation, which 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.

It will be interesting to see what develops from this initiative. Hopefully, grant funding can be better used to meet the needs on rural roads, reduce fatalities and ease transport burdens.