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TRI-COUNTY — Every day many residents in the Tri-County go about their daily routines, jumping in their vehicles rushing to work, dropping children off at school, running errands, going to the grocery store, library, after school practices and so forth, often taking their mode of transportation for granted.

While safe, affordable and convenient transportation is a given in larger cities, the lack of it in rural areas such as the Tri-County often creates roadblocks for many citizens.

In a 2018 article published by the Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis, over 90 percent of trips in rural areas occur in automobiles, compared to 84 percent of trips in major cities. Public transit is limited in rural communities: 4% of rural households use public transit compared to 31% of urban households.

The issue with transportation impacts both young and old as well as low-income community members.

An increasing number of aging citizens who have been car drivers for the largest part of their lives are having to face reality and stop driving. Alternative transport needs to be available to keep these community members engaged in mainstream society.

When it comes to young adults, principals who work with non-traditional students in the Tri-County admit their students are being offered high-quality co-op jobs, but often have to pass on them because they don’t have the transportation to get there, adding it’s a shame because with these high paying jobs, the students could have the money saved to buy their own transportation within a short time period.

Another collective group of community members who seemingly all need public transportation are men and women who come out of incarceration or recovery programs. In a recent interview with a recovery facility director, it was stated that housing and transportation were the biggest hurdles to overcome when getting back into society.

Transportation in rural America isn’t a new problem. However maybe now leaders are stepping up to the plate.

“Rural America, which has a disproportionately high rate of fatalities and is historically neglected, needs to have its transportation needs addressed,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao in a press release Tuesday.

Chao announced the creation of a major new initiative to support transportation needs in rural America. The initiative, known as the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) Initiative, will analyze the Department’s discretionary funding and financing opportunities to ensure nationwide outcomes for rural communities’ transportation infrastructure.

Rural transportation infrastructure has significant challenges. According to the information provided from Chao, over 70 percent of America’s road miles are in rural areas. While one-fifth of Americans live in rural areas, rural America’s traffic fatalities are disproportionately high, totaling 46 percent of fatalities in 2018. Further, of the nation’s bridges that are posted for weight limits, 90 percent are in rural areas.

The new ROUTES Initiative will address these challenges by assisting rural stakeholders in understanding how to access DOT grants and financing products, and developing data-driven approaches to better assess needs and benefits of rural transportation projects.

In the coming weeks, the Times-Tribune will take a more in-depth look at the transportation needs of the Tri-County, who it is affecting and what steps are already being taken to address the need.

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