How Much Transportation Infrastructure Does Rural America Need?


Jerry Fruin, Phillip Baumel

April 1992

Report no. P92-8

Rural America has been the beneficiary of large investments in freight and passenger surface transportation infrastructure. Unfortunately, this infrastructure is becoming out-of-date due to the technological changes occurring in the transportation industry and related industries, and is showing the effects of time. Rural America needs further investments in the transportation infrastructure in order to move the large quantities of heavy products it produces long distances to market and because of the geographic dispersion of the rural population. Parsimonious funding for the rehabilitation of the rural infrastructure means that future sources of funding will have to be found. Reduced state allocations to the local rural road system suggest that agriculture and other rural groups will face the dilemma of increased property taxes to fund the maintenance and reconstruction of the existing local rural road system or face a reduction in the miles of road. Agriculture must also be concerned about the deterioration of the aging inland waterway system, especially since federal funding of new construction must be matched by waterway user taxes. Moreover, the railroad industry still has 41 percent of its trackage still hauling only one percent of the total net ton miles. This suggests further rail abandonment as these tracks need rehabilitation. Technological and structural change in agriculture and transportation have made some rural transportation infrastructure investments less than beneficial to agriculture and rural America. The 21st century will witness the emergence of an economic environment that will require agriculture and other rural interests to decide which transportation infrastructure investments to support and which investments they can, after all do without.

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