Transportation needs in America's rural areas focus of proposed bill

Legislation has been introduced which is designed to improve federal support for the transportation infrastructure needs of rural areas in America.

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mike Braun, R-Ind., both members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, on Sept. 19 introduced the Rural Economic Infrastructure Equity Act of 2019.

The senators noted in a news release that in rural areas, 36 percent of roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and 10 percent of rural bridges are structurally deficient.  

This kind of poor infrastructure quality impedes economic development by straining businesses, commuters and tourism, they said.

Currently, programs to assist rural areas are handled by various offices and agencies throughout the U.S. Department of Transportation, DOT.  

Durbin and Braun’s bill would improve the coordination of existing rural infrastructure functions within DOT.

Specifically, the measure would create a new DOT Assistant Secretary for Rural Economic Investment and a new DOT Office of Rural Economic Investment.

“I constantly hear from farmers and other rural Illinoisans about the serious transportation infrastructure needs in their communities,” Durbin said.  

“Our bill creates a new senior position and office within the U.S. Department of Transportation dedicated to strengthening federal attention and improving outreach on rural transportation infrastructure issues in America. 

“Our goal is to ensure rural towns in Illinois, Indiana, and elsewhere that need federal funding to improve transportation infrastructure are in the best position to receive it.”

“As a Main Street entrepreneur who spearheaded the effort to repair our infrastructure in Indiana, the Rural Economic Infrastructure Equity Act will improve our infrastructure throughout rural America,” said Braun.  

“Through this legislation and in partnership with the Department of Transportation, together we can assist rural communities as we improve our bridges and roads.”   

The Rural Economic Infrastructure Equity Act of 2019 would specifically do the following:

Creates a new USDOT Assistant Secretary for Rural Economic Investment and a new Office of Rural Economic Investment to improve the coordination of existing internal USDOT functions that serve and address rural infrastructure.

Requires stronger USDOT outreach, education, and technical assistance to rural communities that qualify for federal transportation assistance, including assistance with planning and coordination to maximize the competitive advantages of their rural regions and avoid duplication of transportation investments.

Improves advocacy for rural communities within USDOT operations when developing transportation policies and programs.

Establishes a rural stakeholder consultation process when developing USDOT policies and regulations.

Establishes an outside Rural Advisory Council to advise on issues related to rural needs and make recommendations to improve rural equity in transportation investments.

The Gazette-Democrat

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