In rural Arkansas, as in many other parts of middle America, farming communities have made do with poorly maintained roadways for far too long.
Frontage roads and access roads are crucial to a farmers’ timely transportation and logistics, which are costly to the operation even when roads are maintained, thanks to volatile fuel prices and vehicle maintenance costs.
Improper maintenance or infrequent repair to major rural thoroughfares only adds to these costs. When farm vehicles or expensive farming equipment is damaged by traffic incidents, potholes, washouts or poorly maintained gravel backroads, costs rise even further.
There is also a safety component to contend with on rural roadways. There were more than 35,000 traffic fatalities in 2015, and rural areas accounted for 53 percent of fatal crashes as well as 54 percent of fatalities. Among the four key factors that contribute to deaths on rural roads is roadway environment, or the unique driving hazards that can be encountered on rural roads.
If an accident occurs and farming operation employees or family are injured, or worse, the operation may also incur additional costs to cover insurance and medical bills, temporary labor, or replacement equipment and vehicles.
According to TRIP, a nonprofit organization that researches data on surface transportation issues, about 15 percent of the United States’ major rural roads were in poor condition in 2013, and in 2014, 11 percent of rural bridges were deemed structurally deficient. The American Society of Civil Engineers notes a $1.1 trillion investment gap between what is available and the $2 trillion they estimate will be needed to repair roads during the coming decade.
Rural areas often receive less state funding for road repair in favor of higher density urban areas. As a result, bridges are often subject to restrictive load limits, while roads in bad repair may simply be closed and instead a detour is provided. But those detours also extend commute and transportation times, which again drive up costs to rural areas, including farmers and their employees.
While there are grants and loans available to help subsidize the costs for road improvement, in many cases, smaller towns struggle to come up with the required matching funds and may not be eligible for loans—both because of their low populations. Fewer people paying taxes in rural areas means less revenue for cities, counties and townships, and possibly an inability to repay even subsidized loans.
Until rural roadway projects and improvements take precedence, our country’s deadliest roads will remain those in rural communities.
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The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and not those of Farmer's Business Network, Inc., its affiliates or members.