WASHINGTON, D.C. - A new report finds that rural roads and bridges in South Dakota have significant deficiencies and are in need of safety upgrades.

The report, “Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland,” was released Thursday by TRIP, a national non-profit transportation research group based in Washington, D.C. It defines rural America as counties that lack an urban area of at least 50,000 in population or lack a large commuting flow to an urban county.

The report says that in 2013, 21 percent of South Dakota’s rural bridges were rated as structurally deficient, the fourth-highest rate in the nation. In 2012, 12 percent of South Dakota’s major rural roads were rated in poor condition. The fatality rate on South Dakota’s rural roads was 2.21 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel, the 17th-highest rate in the nation and nearly three times higher than the fatality rate of 0.74 on all other roads.

“Adequate funding for local governments is essential for providing safe infrastructure. Right now, county governments do not have the fi nances they need to provide the roads and bridges needed by the agriculture community, local residents or industry,” said Delvin Worth, president of the South Dakota County Commissioners Association.

The report states that the nation’s rural transportation system is in need of modernization to address deficient roads and bridges, high crash rates and inadequate connectivity and capacity.

The report also finds that the development of major new oil and gas fields in numerous areas as well as increased agricultural production are placing significantly increased traffic loads by large trucks on non-Interstate rural roads, which often have not been constructed to carry such high load volumes.

The average travel per-lane mile by large trucks on major, non-arterial rural roads in the U.S. has increased by 16 percent from 2000 to 2012.

Nationwide federal funding for highways is expected to be cut by almost 100 percent from the current investment level for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 (fiscal year 2015), unless Congress provides additional transportation revenues. In South Dakota, this could mean a cut of $267 million for highway and transit improvements if a lack of adequate revenue into the Federal Highway Trust Fund is not addressed by Congress.

“The safety and quality of life in America’s small communities and rural areas and the health of the nation’s economy ride on our rural transportation system,” said Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP.

- Source: TRIP