Rural America’s Vital Road Needs “Overlooked”

By John Latta, Tina Grady Barbaccia and Mike Anderson

Politicians and planners involved in “policy discussions” about future transportation funding and development are overlooking the people of rural America. So says John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“The people who live in rural areas rely on commercial trucks, cell phones, and the Internet just as much as any city dweller. Yet many of our highways that serve rural areas were built back in the 1960s. Why do we expect our modern society to run on an archaic transportation system? We need a transportation system that works for the entire country of today – not one that struggles just to keep up with yesterday,” says Horsley

According to Connecting Rural and Urban America, a new AASHTO report, more investment is needed in America’s rural transportation system to keep agriculture, new energy products and freight moving, to improve access for the travel, recreation and tourism industries, to connect new and emerging cities, and to ensure reliable access to key defense installations.

“Improving connectivity and mobility for the 60 million Americans who live in rural areas is just as important as improving mobility for those who live in metropolitan areas,” says Horsley. “Rural states are essential to the nation’s success, not only to meet the needs of their own citizens, but also to maintain their part of the national network on which the U.S. economy depends.”

The report also finds that existing businesses and industries, and rural economic development efforts, depend on access to Interstate and National Highway System routes. Expansion of rural capacity is important for economic development efforts that depend on access to these routes. Sixty-six cities with populations of 50,000 or more, including one state capital (Jefferson City, Mo..), do not have immediate access to the Interstate system.

Because of the uncertainty about funding in a new long-term reauthorization bill, highway projects that would expand rural capacity have greatly decreased.

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One example. “Luring job-creators to Kansas – such as the Siemens plant in Hutchinson that will manufacture wind turbine generators and the National Bio-Agro Facility at Manhattan – are welcome additions that will create hundreds of jobs,” said Kansas Transportation Secretary Deb Miller. “But they will create capacity issues for our infrastructure, as well.”

Kansas’ short-line railroads haul an average of 175,000 carloads of goods throughout the state every year, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation. With increased congestion, trucks and freight trains can’t deliver their goods and people can’t get to their jobs, which creates lost time and wasted money, Miller said. AASHTO’s report predicts increased trade between Canada and the United States will require states to expand their highway and transportation options or risk overloading the system and causing more even more congestion.

To resolve these concerns, the AASHTO report offers a plan to ensure the connectivity of rural and urban America: In any reauthorization of federal transportation legislation, Congress should continue to fund rural portions of the Interstate Highway System and other federal-aid highways that connect America. It should also double federal investment in rural transit systems to meet rising demand. And it should also expand the existing capacity of the interstate system, upgrade rural routes to interstate standards, and connect newly-urbanized areas to the interstate system. v

From the report:

According to a 2007 study of Future Options for the Interstate Highway System, 30,000 lane-miles should be added to the interstate system to meet rural needs, including:

Expanding the existing rural Interstate Highway

System by 16,000 lane-miles;

Upgrading rural National Highway System routes to interstate standards, an addition of 2,000 lane-miles; and

Upgrading to interstate standards National Highway System routes that can connect the existing interstate network to unconnected urbanized areas with a current or expected population greater than 50,000 in population. This would add 12,000 lane-miles.


Obama plans to ‘jumpstart’ highway funding

President Obama has launched a plan, with $50 billion in “up-front” money, which he says will get the stalled reauthorization process moving.

The President said that “the plan would reform the way America currently invests in transportation, changing our focus to enhancing competition, innovation, performance and real analysis that gets taxpayers the best bang for the buck, while moving away from the earmarks and formula debates of the past.”

In a nutshell, the President proposed rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads, and also building new railroads and rehabbing runways. He would do it, he said, by “working with Congress to enact a new up-front investment in our nation’s infrastructure.” Critics, of course, were quick to point out that “working with Congress” on a new surface transportation bill has not worked out to date.

The President proposed to do this while, at the same time, creating “a long-term framework to reform and expand our nation’s investment in transportation infrastructure.”

While President Obama and his administration have balked at raising fuel taxes, he pushed reauthorization in his plan. “If we are to enjoy the benefits that come from a world-class transportation system, Congress must enact a long-term reauthorization that expands and reforms our infrastructure investments and returns the transportation fund to solvency. To jumpstart job creation, this long-run policy front-loads – through a $50 billion up-front investment – a significant share of the new infrastructure resources.” Whether that seed money would be considered a stand alone investment or become part of the funds allocated via a surface transportation reauthorization bill is unclear.

The Administration also wants to set up an Infrastructure Bank, and though he did not say so, it is likely to be the President’s alternative to a fuel tax raise as a future source of vital investment money. The bank would leverage federal, state, local and private dollars, focusing on critical infrastructure projects, selected by merit not politics. “This marks an important departure from the federal government’s traditional way of spending on infrastructure through earmarks and formula-based grants that are allocated more by geography and politics than demonstrated value.”

While stakeholders in the highway and bridge industries welcomed a $50-billion jumpstart fund, reservations came with the lack of detail, and Washington watchers could see no way the plan, or the bank, could find traction in Congress until well into next year. Both factors make debate on the Obama initiative somewhat moot right now.v

Kirk Untitled 11A true Hall of Famer

Those of us who have worked in the same space as Kirk Landers have long understood what an honor that is. Members of the Construction Writers Association (CWA) have now made it official, electing the editor emeritus of Better Roads as the lone 2010 inductee to the CWA Hall of Fame.

“I’ve known Kirk both as a competitor and a colleague, and believe me, the latter is much preferable,” says Marcia Gruver Doyle, editorial director, Randall-Reilly Construction Group. “His keen analysis of what’s happening in the industry is an asset I highly value. What’s wonderful is you don’t have to play dodge ball with a huge ego when you work with Kirk – his opinion is both forthright and humble.”

The induction ceremony will be part of the CWA’s annual conference Oct. 25-26 in Chicago.

See Kirk’s latest column on Page 44.

Highway Cement Rebound on Hold Until 2013

The failure of Congress to pass a new surface transportation bill has a rippling effect. For example, cement producers are now feeling it. Delays in an extension of the bill mean cement consumption will not begin a significant rebound until 2013, according to the most recent economic forecast from the Portland Cement Association (PCA).

In 2010, PCA anticipates a 2.4-percent increase in consumption compared to severely depressed 2009 levels. A 6.7-percent gain is predicted for 2011, followed by an 8.4-percent increase in 2012. An 18.8-percent jump is projected for 2013, when highway and street cement consumption comes back on track.

“Delays in an extension of SAFETEA-LU reduced highway cement consumption by one million metric tons in 2010,” Edward Sullivan, PCA chief economist, said. “Lacking a new highway bill until 2013, highway cement consumption will be based on inflation-eroded SAFETEA-LU extensions, declining ARRA stimulus and extremely weak state fiscal conditions.”


“We’ve basically been building in America for the automobile and now we have to start all over again and build for the people.”

Senator Mary Landrieu, (D-La) in



S.C. Gas Tax Proposal

You can state the obvious but getting support for it can be really difficult, especially in an election year.

A commission in yet another state facing crumbling roads has nevertheless suggested the obvious. The South Carolina Tax Reform Commission has recommended drivers pay another nickel a gallon (they now pay the state 16 cents a gallon) for unleaded gas, so that the Palmetto State can raise $150 million a year for road repair. That tax rate, set in 1987, is the lowest in the Southeast states.

But elections and a gubernatorial race loom. After that, the increase would have to pass both houses and the new governor.

Safety Edge Goes Concrete

Safety Untitled 1The Iowa DOT has used Stimulus funds to expand the ways an existing paving technique can save lives.

Safety Edge was designed to help prevent fatal crashes by combating the dangers associated with drivers returning to the road over deteriorated shoulders after they have drifted off. Most commonly used when paving with asphalt, Iowa is the first state to use this technology on concrete roads. The Federal Highway Administration says it’s hopeful Iowa’s action will help bring a needed safety technique one step closer to standard practice.

“Safety is our number-one priority, and we hope more states will use this low-cost, low-risk technology that helps protect drivers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Safety Edge is also one of five featured technologies in Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez’s Every Day Counts Initiative, which seeks to identify and help quickly deploy innovations aimed at enhancing the safety of our roadways and shortening project delivery.

“This technology is easy to use and extremely cost-effective – and, most importantly, it will save lives,” said Mendez.

Iowa DOT employed Safety Edge on a rural secondary road, County Road E-34. The road is a high-crash corridor, making it an ideal candidate for additional safety investment. Safety Edge prevents pavement edge drop-off, one major cause of roadway departure crashes. The drop-off is the vertical distance between the paved travel lane and the unpaved shoulder. By attaching a simple device to a paving machine to angle the asphalt or concrete, a safer and more durable pavement edge can be created, allowing drivers to more easily regain control after leaving the travel lane.

Find more information on Safety Edge at the FHWA site

Ad blitz targets Congress

The Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-led Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM), two national groups advocating significant new investments in transportation improvements, have developed campaign advertising to appeal to the general public with signs asking, “Sick of Aging Roads?—Tell Congress to Act!”

Similar messages have been developed for traffic congestion, transit delays, and unsafe bridges and billboards will go up across the country.

The ads direct viewers to the Website, where an action kit, instructions for contacting members of Congress, educational videos and other materials about the highway/transit bill are available.

The TCC, co-chaired by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) and the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America, is comprised of 29 national construction groups and labor unions.

ATM is a nationwide effort by business, labor, transportation organizations and citizens to advocate increased federal investment in the nation’s transportation system.

A list of members of each coalition is available at: and