“The back roads of America shouldn’t be on the back burner of public policy priorities.
“The TRIP study is the latest in a series that have highlighted the critical importance of rural roads and bridges to key sectors of the economy as well as the safety consequences from the failure to properly invest in them. A landmark report from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation [PIRE] found that more than half of U.S. highway fatalities are related to deficient roadway conditions — a substantially more lethal factor than drunk driving, speeding or non-use of safety belts. PIRE said the economic and social costs were $217 billion annually.
“If a bridge or road is out of commission in a metropolitan area, a suitable replacement might be found within a few hundred yards, or maybe a few miles. That’s not always the case in rural areas as demonstrated in Vermont with the floods caused by Hurricane Irene. If a river bridge or road is closed, it can easily turn what used to be a five mile trip into a 50 mile trip — if the area is accessible at all. The resulting delays in emergency response obviously put lives in jeopardy and can increase the costs for food, energy and other retail products.
“Solutions for improving the roadway environment in rural areas are not complicated. They include such things as mounting more guardrails or safety barriers, adding or widening shoulders, improving roadway alignment, replacing or widening narrow bridges, and installing better signs with easier-to-read legends.
“Making timely and sustained investments that are necessary to ensure rural roads are safer and more forgiving is the collective responsibility of elected officials at all levels of government.”