Rural and Tribal communities are key to our nation’s economic competitiveness and well-being, but they face significant challenges that impede their safety, mobility, and economic vitality. While only 19% of the U.S. population live in rural areas, 45% of all roadway fatalities and 34% of all public highway-rail grade crossing fatalities occur on rural roads, and the fatality rate on rural roads is two times higher than on urban roads. Safety challenges are compounded by poor infrastructure condition, vulnerability to extreme weather, and a dependence on fossil-fuel powered cars and trucks. These challenges are unsustainable, limiting mobility options and creating financial burdens for low-income households. Therefore, the ROUTES Initiative aims to address rural transportation infrastructure’s unique challenges in order to promote safety, mobility, and economic competitiveness.
Improving the way that DOT engages with rural project sponsors can tangibly enhance the safety and economic competitiveness of transportation infrastructure projects throughout the country. The ROUTES Initiative will provide rural project sponsors with pertinent and easy-to-use information about the Department’s infrastructure programs to help overcome resource challenges that can be an impediment to competitive applications.
The ROUTES Initiative was established in October 2019 with DOT Order 5050.1 and codified in Section 25010 of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in December 2021.
Rural Strategic Framework
DOT seeks to address rural infrastructure challenges so that the needs of rural communities are better integrated into the Department’s overall mission, as stated in the Department’s draft strategic plan: To ensure that our nation has the safest, most equitable, reliable, and modern transportation system in the world to increase economic strength, improve climate outcomes, and build global competitiveness for the American people.
Achieving DOT’s rural vision requires active consideration of rural communities in local, regional, and national policy and funding decisions. To make this happen, DOT will:
- 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.
DOT's rural strategic framework relies on a three-tiered approach to implementing DOT’s rural vision:
- Engaging Rural Communities
- Harmonizing DOT Programs
- Utilizing a Whole-of-Government Approach
Alignment with Other DOT Priorities
Within the rural strategic framework, ROUTES will continue working with the Operating Administrations (OAs) on outreach, grants, and technical assistance to align with other DOT priorities:
- 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.
The ROUTES Council organizes, guides, and leads the ROUTES Initiative, and coordinates rural- and Tribal-related funding programs and assistance among the OAs of the Department, the offices of the Department, and other federal agencies as appropriate. The Council is chaired by the Deputy Secretary of Transportation and includes leadership from across the Department.