With the current law authorizing federal transportation spending set to expire on March 31 Congress has turned its’ attention to working out an extension which will continue to finance the country’s transportation needs. Earlier this month the Senate passed a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill but the House seems unlikely to approve. Whatever the final extension looks like it is important to consider the unique and evolving needs of America’s rural communities.
The U.S. rural population is at an all-time low of just 16 percent and this population change has had an effect on the transportation needs of rural Americans. According to the Community Transportation Association it is often the less mobile population groups who remain when a dramatic shift like this occurs. So while the natural inclination might be to divert transportation resources away from a shrinking populace, it becomes even more important to provide these individuals with a robust transportation network.
Rural roads and highways provide the link between states necessary for a thriving economy and as such, must be well maintained. However, data shows that citizens of rural America also have a demonstrable need for an increase in transit options. Rural Americans also spend a higher percentage of their income on fuel due to the sheer logistics of having more area to travel. Additionally, like much of the rest of the country rural unemployment is rising, meaning that those living in affected areas may face longer commutes once they re-enter the workforce.
The House and Senate appear to be far apart in their plans for transportation authorization and financing. A short-term solution extending the current law is likely to ensure that projects are not halted, and the House plans to draw up their own long-term plan once that is addressed. It is imperative that Congress consider the changing transportation needs of rural areas, which may require some targeted changes to the current law rather than a direct extension.