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About

Rural Highway icon

The Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) Initiative is committed to addressing rural infrastructure challenges so that the needs of rural communities are better integrated into the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) overall mission “to deliver the world’s leading transportation system, serving the American people and economy through the safe, efficient, sustainable, and equitable movement of people and goods.” In support of this mission, the ROUTES Initiative develops user-friendly tools and information, aggregates DOT resources, and provides direct technical assistance to better connect rural project sponsors with the funding, financing, and outreach resources available. 

Achieving DOT’s mission requires active consideration of rural communities in local, regional, and national policy and funding decisions. To make this happen, the ROUTES Initiative works to:

  • Ensure that DOT policies and programs are aligned to support the unique infrastructure and mobility challenges of rural communities, and
  • Increase the capacity of rural communities to plan, fund, and deliver transformative infrastructure and a mobility network that serves all residents.

New at ROUTES

Since codification in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in December 2021, the ROUTES Initiative has been actively engaged with rural and Tribal communities through outreach, technical assistance, and resource and policy development.

As of January 2024, the ROUTES Initiative has engaged in the following activities:

  • Published two versions of the Rural EV Infrastructure Toolkit to help rural and Tribal stakeholders scope, plan, and fund electric mobility infrastructure
  • Revised the Rural Grant Applicant Toolkit to increase understanding of DOT discretionary grant programs and the federal funding process
  • Launched the DOT Discretionary Grants Dashboard in conjunction with the Thriving Communities Initiative to help all users determine which grants best suit their transportation infrastructure needs
  • Participated in the Federal Interagency Thriving Communities Network by supporting interagency place-based technical assistance partnerships though in-person and virtual convenings, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Partners Network, U.S. Department of Energy’s Interagency Working Group on Coal & Power Plant Communities & Economic Revitalization, and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Thriving Communities Program
  • Coordinated ROUTES Council meetings to organize, guide, and lead the ROUTES Initiative
  • Led ROUTES Management Team meetings to support ROUTES Council and ensure that the needs of rural America are a priority consideration across the Department’s modal administrations
  • Coordinated USDOT Safety Council – Rural Subcommittee meetings to coordinate activities and exchange information among modal administrations that advance rural transportation safety
  • Hosted webinars tailored to rural and Tribal audiences
  • Supported modal administrations in development of rural-specific webpages
  • Supported OST Discretionary Grant Programs through review and rural policy input
  • Led more than 200 debriefs with unsuccessful rural and Tribal grant applicants to support future applications and identify other potential funding sources in support of OST Discretionary Grant Programs
  • Gave dozens of presentations to external stakeholders in rural and Tribal communities around the country
  • Promoted the use of applicant aids, such as the Project Readiness Checklist and the Benefit-Cost Analysis Spreadsheet Template, to improve the grant application experience
  • Published monthly ROUTES Newsletters and more than 50 announcements, reaching 15,000+ stakeholders
  • Provided direct technical assistance via the Rural@dot.gov inbox

Next for ROUTES

DOT’s rural framework is based on the importance of engaging rural communities, harmonizing DOT programs, and utilizing a whole-of government approach. In the coming years, the ROUTES Initiative will further refine these three strategies to better focus our efforts to address disparities in rural transportation infrastructure and improve safety and economic competitiveness.

Specifically, the ROUTES Initiative plans to:

  • facilitate rural safety peer exchanges and resources to promote information sharing and capacity building;
  • increase direct engagement with underserved rural and Tribal communities; and
  • develop a resource to track rural funding investment.

Additionally, the ROUTES Initiative will continue working with DOT modal administrations and federal partners on outreach, grants, and technical assistance to align with the FY 2022–2026 USDOT Strategic Plan priorities of safety, economic growth and global competitiveness, equity, climate and sustainability, and transformation.

  • Safety: Use a Safe Systems Approach to reduce crashes and fatality rates for all rural and Tribal road users, including pedestrians and bicyclists, with a goal of reaching zero fatalities by focusing on emergency medical services (EMS) needs, safe design of rural and Tribal roads, and improved data collection to identify necessary countermeasures.
  • Economic Growth and Global Competitiveness: Maximize investment in rural and Tribal areas by funding infrastructure modernization and freight improvements to improve mobility for safe and reliable access to jobs, schools, and services; and facilitate workforce development to create inclusive and sustainable transportation jobs in rural and Tribal communities.
  • Equity: Ensure access to safe, affordable, and convenient transportation in underserved rural and Tribal communities by building their capacity to access DOT funds, including those communities in Justice40 efforts, and improving recruitment and procurement practices in rural agencies.
  • Climate and Sustainability: Build a carbon-negative rural transportation system with rural electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, alternative uses of the right-of-way, more transit and active transportation options, and resilience to extreme weather events.
  • Transformation: Shape the future of rural and Tribal transportation systems to meet the present challenges, while also enabling a future system that serves the public good by ensuring that rural and Tribal communities have the infrastructure to benefit from new and emerging technologies such as EVs, connected and automated vehicles (CAVs), and access to broadband.

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