Upgrading the nation’s infrastructure is important to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, including assurance that rural areas receive equal treatment relative to metropolitan areas when funds are distributed.
“I come from a rural state, and I do not believe that rural America is asking for a handout,” said Chao, who resides in Kentucky, during an interview with Transport Topics. “Rural America is asking for equity in the distribution process by which federal dollars are given out. This is an area of great importance to me.”
Her agency’s Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) initiative is targeted at ensuring these areas receive sufficient funding to address their unique infrastructure needs. That includes improving safety, which she said is a crucial problem for rural states.
“Rural America has long been overlooked and neglected, and yet a disproportionate number of roadway fatalities occur in rural areas. So this is a matter of safety, on top of equity,” she said.
Chao noted that while just one-fifth of the nation’s population live in rural areas, 46% of the nation’s road fatalities occur in these regions. Plus, the fatality rate on highways is twice as high in rural areas than in urban areas.
Chao noted that the Trump administration has moved to increase infrastructure funding to rural areas, in particular through DOT’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development discretionary grants program.
“We want to make sure rural America is not overlooked,” she said.
The ROUTES initiative, she said, is, “a resource to rural America to ensure that little towns and counties and poorer states who may not have the money to hire expensive consultants and lawyers and accountants, understand and know what resources are available to them.”