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COLUMBIA, Mo. – According to Federal Highway Administration, rural roads make up 80 percent of the national road network and carry about 40 percent of all vehicle traf-fic. With Congress unable to pass a long-term transportation funding bill, Tom Johnson, the Frank Miller Professor of Agricultural and Ap-plied Economics at the Truman School of Public Affairs at the Uni-versity of Missouri, and Brian Dab-son, director of the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) housed in the Truman School, say that de-spite the importance of rural roads to the nation’s economy, upkeep for those roads remains underfunded.
“With population declines in many rural areas, the loss of tax revenue has left county and city government without the means to maintain the extensive network of roads,” Johnson said. “This in¬creases traffic incidents and poses serious safety risks. More than 57 percent of traffic fatalities nation¬wide occur on rural roads.”
In their white paper, “Rethinking Federal Investments in Rural Trans-portation: Rural Considerations Re-garding Reauthorization of the Sur-face Transportation Act,” Johnson and Dabson argue the importance of investing in rural transportation in-frastructure, specifically public tran-sit systems. They say that current rural transit systems tend to be pri-marily local in nature and do not provide connectivity so that users can conveniently travel outside of their immediate areas.
“Public transit systems are par-ticularly important for the elderly and people with disabilities as well as people who don’t have cars,” Johnson said. “Federal statistics show that more than 1.6 million rural households don’t have access to cars while 38 percent of rural residents live in areas without any public transit options. This leads to problems because rural residents in the lowest 20 percentile income bracket spend 42 percent of their income on transportation alone.”
As Congress considers reauthorizing the federal surface transportation bill, Johnson and Dabson’s recommendations include:
• Supporting local engagement in planning, decision-making and re-source allocation;
• Encouraging innovation and integration for effective rural trans-portation outcomes;
• Shifting resources to address the most pressing rural needs and op-portunities as they are locally de-fined;
• Creating integrated regional transportation, economic develop-ment, and land-use planning and implementation;
• Supporting greater attention to rural “place-making,” through qual-ity of life investments that offer amenities that attract people to work and live in small cities and towns.
Formed in 1990 at the request of members of the Senate Agriculture Committee with foundational sup-port from Iowa State University, University of Nebraska and MU, RUPRI is now an institution of na-tional significance with a presence in many parts of the country. RUPRI’s mission is to provide ob¬jective analysis on the rural impacts of public policies and programs.