America's rural transportation system is in need of repairs and modernization, specifically in the Heartland region, according to TRIP: A National Transportation Research Group. Rural roads and bridges provide a critical link in the nation's economic engine.
A concerning amount of Oklahoma's aging roads and bridges are considered deficient, a significant factor in the increased percentage of reported fatalities on rural roads. The U.S. Census Bureau defines rural areas or regions with a population of 2,500 or more.
The report, Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America's Heartland outline several challenges, including lack of capacity, failure to provide needed levels of connectivity to many communities, and inadequate support for freight travel. "The potential for additional economic growth in many rural areas is being impeded by the failure to significantly modernize the nation's rural transportation system and provide for adequate connectivity."
A disproportionate amount of fatalities occur in Oklahoma's rural areas, indicated by the following data.
Oklahoma ranks 10th in the nation for rural roads in poor condition, and 7th for structurally deficient rural bridges.
The data pointed to multiple factors, including a lack of desirable roadway safety features, longer emergency vehicle response times, and the higher speeds traveled on rural roads compared to urban streets.
Fatalities on rural streets in Oklahoma were nearly two-and-a-half times higher than the fatality rate on all other streets in the state. The fatality rate per (100 MVMT) on rural streets was 2.21m whereas the fatality rate per (100 M VMT) on other streets in the state was 0.91.
“There’s no doubt ODOT does all it can to prioritize and stretch the dollars it’s allocated, and while the state has experienced serious budget deficits recently due to the low price of oil, the need for increased money for roads and bridges has never been more urgent. Commerce will benefit, certainly, but more than that, lives in rural Oklahoma will be saved, and injuries will be prevented," said Chuck Mai, AAA Vice President of Public Affairs.
The importance of a reliable rural transportation system is factored into the country's economic performance. "An effective transportation system can lead to lower food costs for U.S. consumers and higher market prices for producers due to lower shipping costs, smaller margins, and more competitive export prices," the report states.
The condition of the nation's highway system also plays a critical role in providing access to America's tourist destinations. This factor, along with the heightened production of renewable energy is increasing the travel loads on highways.
Among the best in the nation for quality of rural roads, Minnesota. Colorado ranks lowest for the amount of fatalities on country roads.
Oklahoma is in need of modernization to better support economic growth and connectivity, the report states.