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Elaine Chao (photo: Missourinet)

Sec. Chao announces rural transportation infrastructure initiative

(Missourinet) The U.S. Transportation Secretary traveled to St. Louis on Tuesday to unveil a new initiative aimed at addressing disparities in transportation infrastructure in rural America.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao delivered the keynote address at the annual American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials meeting, which is taking place at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel. She emphasizes that the fatality rate on rural America roads is twice that of urban roads.

Chao has announced a new program called the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success initiative, which is known as R.O.U.T.E.S.

“Rural America, which has a disproportionately high rate of fatalities and is historically neglected, needs to have its transportation needs addressed,” Chao tells the audience.

“We will bring together leaders and staff in key infrastructure modes – highways, aviation, transit and railroads, to examine grant programs’ potential to better support the nation’s critical rural transportation infrastructure,” Chao adds.

The main focus of her address was the high rate of traffic fatalities in rural America. Secretary Chao cites numerous transportation safety statistics.

“Rural communities and their transportation networks are vital to our nation. 69 percent of the nation’s lane miles are in rural areas. Two-thirds of rail freight originates in rural areas. But rural transportation infrastructure is challenged by disparities. The disproportionate rate of crash fatalities in rural areas is especially alarming. 19 percent of Americans live in rural areas. Yet, 72 percent of large truck occupant fatalities, 67 percent of pickup occupant fatalities and 58 percent of SUV occupant fatalities occur in rural areas. The fatality rate on rural roads is twice that on urban roads,” Secretary Chao tells the audience.

She’s also announced the formation of a rural transportation infrastructure council to lead this initiative. It will be called the ROUTES Council.

This new internal deliberative body at the Department will identify critical rural transportation concerns and will coordinate efforts among DOT’s different modal administrations. The Council will also create a rural resources handbook and will hold its first meeting in November.

Elaine Chao served as the U.S. Labor Secretary from 2001-2009 under President George W. Bush, and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website notes she is the first Asian-American woman to be appointed to the President’s cabinet in American history.

The U.S. Transportation Department was established by Congress in October 1966.

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