Rural Transportation Challenges: Stakeholder Perspectives

2167 Rayburn House Office Building

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0 Thursday, March 21, 2024 @ 10:00 | Contact: Justin Harclerode 202-225-9446

This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

Witness List:

  • Mr. Mike Koles, Executive Director, Wisconsin Towns Association, on behalf of the National Association of Towns and Townships | Witness Testimony
  • Mr. Jeff Greteman, President, Windstar Lines, on behalf of the American Bus Association (ABA) | Witness Testimony
  • Mr. Todd Morrow, Executive Director, Island Transit, on behalf of the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) | Witness Testimony
  • Mr. Scott VanderWal, National Vice President, American Farm Bureau Federation | Witness Testimony
  • Opening remarks, as prepared, of Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Rick Crawford (R-AR) from hearing, entitled “Rural Transportation Challenges: Stakeholder Perspectives”:

    We are here today to discuss transportation challenges facing rural areas across our country.  Rural communities are the backbone of America. While they’re often forgotten about, much of the food and fuel consumed by people across our country is produced in or travels through rural areas to make it to our urban city centers.

    Without strong transportation networks and updated infrastructure, these vital goods produced by our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers can’t be delivered to market for consumers.

    The United States Census Bureau estimates around 20 percent of our nation’s population lives in rural areas.

    While folks living in these communities account for a smaller segment of the overall population, rural areas make up 97 percent of the total land area in the United States.

    Our rural communities are essential to the connectivity of the nation, and a robust transportation network of rural highways and roads ensures that people and goods can freely move across the country. These communities vary in shape and size, and have vastly different infrastructure needs than their urban counterparts. They also often lack sufficient resources and capacity to make necessary improvements to infrastructure.  A report issued in 2022 by the nonprofit research group TRIP found there is a $180 billion backlog in rural road and bridge needs across America.

    Needless to say, formula funding is critical to states and helps support our rural areas.  The states know best what their individual transportation needs are. For example, the transportation needs in my home state of Arkansas vary greatly from the needs of California, Wyoming, or New York. It is paramount we retain the ability of states to prioritize projects and address their wide-ranging needs.

    That’s why the Federal Highway Administration’s December 16, 2021, policy memo – which sought to encourage states to prioritize “non-motorized modes and transit,” as well as updating existing infrastructure over new capacity projects – was so troubling. Thankfully, after a number of us here in Congress raised our significant concerns, Federal Highways did the right thing and superseded their memo.

    People who live in rural areas often travel further to work, the grocery store, and other essential services. For many, this involves frequently crossing state lines, so there must be some recognition of the implications when one state proposes policies that have implications on interstate commerce; it affects travelers in other communities.

    It is also unrealistic to think that these communities can or should prioritize bike lanes and pedestrian projects over much-needed critical infrastructure. The same 2022 report by TRIP found that vehicle miles traveled are 50 percent higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

    While the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) made changes to existing programs and included initiatives to support rural areas, we heard in a full committee hearing earlier this month about the many challenges that rural communities face in applying for discretionary grants. 

    IIJA provided historic funding for the improvement of American infrastructure. The law significantly expanded discretionary grant programs. IIJA authorized $196 billion for new and existing DOT competitive grant programs over five years.

    Witnesses raised concerns with the high cost of applying, and the lengthy review processes that disproportionately affect rural America. Concerns were also shared about the ability of small communities to comply with burdensome federal permitting requirements.

    These barriers, combined with woke policies the Biden Administration has included as part of its notice of funding opportunities for discretionary grants, like Justice40, have seriously undermined the ability of rural communities to compete for grants. The Biden Administration has pushed an onerous regulatory agenda that is particularly harmful to rural America.

    This includes the Federal Highway Administration’s final rule to create a greenhouse gas performance measure, forcing state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations to set declining targets for carbon dioxide emissions stemming from transportation on the National Highway System. This rule goes beyond the Administration’s statutory authority. The policy was considered and rejected during Senate negotiations of IIJA. Stakeholders have previously testified before this subcommittee that this rule will impact project selections.

    Furthermore, concerns have been raised regarding how the rule will impact more rural states with communities that can’t build a subway or bike lanes to cut emissions. These projects simply don’t make sense in communities where the only congestion and traffic jams are caused by combines or cattle. 

    I look forward to hearing today from our witnesses regarding the challenges facing our rural areas, as well as their thoughts on how we might help address issues at the federal level.

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