Report: R.I. rural infrastructure among worst-maintained in U.S.
ONE-THIRD OF RURAL roads in Rhode Island are in need of repair, according to a report by the Trip National Transportation Research Group, the second-highest percentage of deficient roads in the country.
PROVIDENCE – Thirty-three percent of Rhode Island’s rural roads and 25 percent of its rural bridges are in need of repair, ranking Rhode Island among the U.S. states with the highest percentage of deficient rural roadways, according to a report issued Thursday by the Trip National Transportation Research Group.
Connecticut topped the list of states with the highest percentage of rural roads in poor condition, at 35 percent, followed by Rhode Island and West Virginia, both with 33 percent. Hawaii and Michigan rounded out the top five at 32 percent each.
In terms of rural bridge deficiency, Pennsylvania tied with Rhode Island for the highest percentage of bridges in disrepair, at 25 percent. Iowa ranked third with 22 percent, followed by South Dakota with 21 percent and Oklahoma with 20 percent.
Massachusetts did not rank among the top 20 states in either category.
The report defined a rural area as counties that lack an urban area of at least 50,000 people or that lack a large commuting flow to an urban county. Traffic accidents and fatalities are disproportionately high on rural roads, Trip found, with 1.85 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles of travel in Rhode Island in 2012, compared with 0.76 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles on all other Rhode Island roads.
Trip released the report the same day U.S. congressional committees pushed forward legislation that would replenish funding for the Highway Trust Fund, the federal fund that finances road, bridge and transportation projects, which is set to run out of money as early as next month.
The bill, which the U.S. House of Representatives will take up next week, would extend funding temporarily through May 2015.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said the department will begin delaying reimbursement to states for highway construction projects when the fund dips below $4 billion on about Aug. 1.
In Rhode Island, a lack of adequate revenue in the Highway Trust Fund could mean the loss of as much as $226 million for highway and transit improvements, Trip said, which would have a particularly critical impact on the state’s rural roads.
“More than 46 million Americans live in rural and less densely populated areas of the country where their primary mode of transportation is a personal vehicle,” said Kathleen Bower, vice president of public affairs for AAA, in the report. “Congress must act quickly to provide a sustainable solution for the federal Highway Trust Fund to ensure that states can continue to make necessary infrastructure investments that will benefit all travelers.”
To improve rural transportation in the U.S., Trip advised the nation’s lawmakers to improve public transit access to rural areas, modernize and extend key routes in rural areas, implement needed roadway safety improvements, and continue funding the preservation and upkeep of rural roadways.
“The safety and quality of life in America’s small communities and rural areas and the health of the nation’s economy ride on our rural transportation system,” said Will Wilkins, executive director of Trip. “Funding the modernization of our rural transportation system will create jobs and help ensure long-term economic development and quality of life in rural America.”