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David Sparks Ph.d Road Infrastructure
by David Sparks Ph.d, click here for bio

Program: Line on Agriculture
Date: September 06, 2019

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According to USDA, trucking carries 70% of agricultural and food products and represents 30% of all ton-miles moved on U.S. transportation systems. As rural road and bridge conditions decline, further funding is necessary to ensure rural populations can efficiently transport the farm and ranch goods we all rely on while supporting their families and maintaining their quality of life.

This Market Intel will focus on current rural road conditions and where federal funding levels are, as lawmakers will be tasked with the challenge of designating funding for such a vital part of our economy.

Where Rural Roads Are

Rural roads, highways, and bridges lack the capacity to accommodate growing freight travel and fail in providing adequate levels of connectivity to many communities. To assess the condition of roads, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration utilizes the International Roughness Index. Pavement conditions are calculated based on surface deviations that impact vehicle suspension movement. The IRI is reported in units of inches-per-mile, describing how much vertical movement a standard passenger vehicle would experience. An IRI greater than 170 inches-per-mile is rated as poor, whereas an IRI less than 95 inches-per-mile represents a road in good condition.

According to TRIP, a national transportation research group, 15% of U.S. roads are in poor condition and 21% in mediocre condition. Bridges in poor or structurally deficient condition represent 9% of all rural bridges in the U.S. and are often restricted to lower weight vehicles or even off-limits completely, therefore closing off access to large vehicles and agricultural equipment.

In 2017, the 20 states with the highest percentage of roads in poor condition represent 38% of total cash receipts for all commodities. The two maps in Figure 1 illustrate the percent of rural roads and bridges in poor or structurally deficient condition and denotes the 20 states in each category with the highest percentage of roads or bridges in poor condition.

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