Ag Today June 28, 2017

State’s rural roads among worst in nation

By Staff Reports

POSTED: 06/27/17, 7:00 PM PDT | UPDATED: 8 HRS AGO

Washington >> America’s rural transportation system is in need of repairs and California’s rank as some of the worst in the nation according to a new report released this week by TRIP, a transportation research group.

The report, “Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland,” evaluates the safety and condition of the nation’s rural roads and bridges and finds that the nation’s rural transportation system is in need of improvements to address deficient roads and bridges, high crash rates, and inadequate connectivity and capacity. According to the study, 38 percent of California’s rural roads are rated in poor condition — the third highest rate in the nation — and 15 percent are rated in mediocre condition. Only Rhode Island and Connecticut rank worse.

Six percent of California’s rural bridges are rated as structurally deficient.

Traffic fatalities on California’s non-Interstate, rural roads amounted to 3.19 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel — the second highest in the nation and is nearly five times higher than the fatality rate on all other roads in the state. South Carolina, at 3.82, is on the bottom in terms of safety.

“The results of this study illustrate the consequences of years of backlogged maintenance, and what happens when needs far exceed the resources provided to maintain an aging transportation system,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “Luckily, California’s lawmakers acted to provide a badly needed and game changing investment through the Road Repair and Accountability Act (SB 1), which will be an opportunity for California to make significant improvements to our roads, both rural and urban alike.”

“The state invests millions a year to inspect, maintain and preserve roads and bridges, but years of neglect have presented California with a backlog of deferred maintenance in the billions,” said Tom Holsman, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of California. “The recent passage of SB 1 provides a significant contribution towards road safety improvements and repairs, but we’re talking about an estimated $59 billion maintenance backlog.

In Holsman’s terms, drivers are daily consumers of road and highway systems. Because of poor conditions, consumerspay for costly repairs to our vehicles. The report echoes his beliefs, pointing out that quality of life in America’s small communities and the health of the nation’s rural economy, is highly reliant on the quality of the nation’s transportation system, particularly its roads, highways and bridges. America’s rural transportation system provides the first and last link in the supply chain from farm to market while supporting the tourism industry.

“This report underlines the pressing need to repair California’s rural roads,” California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said. “The whole nation depends on rural California for food and farm products, but rural infrastructure needs are often overlooked. We must rebuild, repair and enhance the infrastructure our parents and grandparents built, to ensure strong rural communities for everyone who relies on California-grown food and agricultural products.”

The TRIP report finds that the U.S. needs to implement transportation improvements that will improve rural transportation connectivity, safety and conditions to provide the nation’s small communities and rural areas with safe and efficient access to support quality of life and enhance economic productivity. The nation’s ability to address its rural transportation challenges will be greatly enhanced if Congress is able to provide a long-term, dedicated, user-based revenue stream capable of fully funding the federal surface transportation program.

“The latest TRIP report reinforces what we in rural California have known for a long time,” said Humboldt County Supervisor and California State Association of Counties Second Vice President Virginia Bass. “Between inflation driving up maintenance and repair costs and better fuel economy negatively impacting the available revenue, rural roads are suffering from a severe backlog of deferred maintenance. We just passed state legislation in California that will increase road repair revenue for the first time in more than 20 years. It will help, but we need a national infrastructure bill that also devotes additional money to help rural counties fix roads and bridges, improve the safety of the traveling public, and boost commerce and economic activity.”