America’s rural transportation system is in dire need of repairs and modernization to correct deficiencies and continue to support economic growth.

This is according to a new report released today by The Road Information Program (TRIP). 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 needs immediate improvements to address deficient roads and bridges, high crash rates, and inadequate connectivity and capacity.

The report says rural, non-Interstate routes accounted for 22% of all vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. in 2017. However, crashes on those routes resulted in 41 percent of the 37,133 traffic deaths. 

The chart (inset) shows the states with the highest rate of rural pavements in poor condition, states with the highest share of rural bridges that are rated poor/structurally deficient, and states with the highest fatality rates on non-Interstate, rural roads.

The report finds that the nation’s rural roads and bridges have significant deficiencies. Fifteen percent of U.S. rural roads are rated in poor condition, while 21 percent are in mediocre condition. Seventeen percent of the nation’s rural roads are in fair condition and the remaining 47 percent are in good condition.

Nine percent of the nation’s rural bridges are rated in poor/structurally deficient condition, meaning there is significant deterioration to the major components of the bridge. Poor/structurally deficient bridges are often posted for lower weight or closed to traffic, restricting or redirecting large vehicles, including agricultural equipment, commercial trucks, school buses and emergency services vehicles. Forty-six percent of rural bridges are rated fair, a rating that indicates the bridge’s structural elements are sound but minor deterioration has occurred to the bridge’s deck, substructure or superstructure.

Significant improvements are needed, not only because of safety, but also to support the nation’s Heartland, which is a critical source of energy, food and fiber. With increases in population and growing employment, rural America is heavily reliant on the quality of its transportation system to sustain further growth, TRIP says.