Durbin, Braun Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Establish Rural Transportation Infrastructure Office

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Mike Braun (R-IN), both members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today introduced the Rural Transportation Equity Act of 2021, which would improve federal support for transportation and infrastructure needs of rural communities in America. Current programs to assist rural areas are handled by various offices and agencies throughout the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Durbin and Braun’s bill would strengthen the coordination and outreach of rural infrastructure functions within DOT by creating a new DOT Office of Rural Investment.

“This Congress, we have an opportunity to address the needs of rural Illinoisans who are concerned about the state of transportation infrastructure in their communities,” said Durbin. “Our bill creates a new office within the U.S. Department of Transportation dedicated specifically to increasing federal attention on the unique attributes and needs of rural infrastructure and transportation.”

“Access to reliable transportation contributes to the economic development, health, and quality of life of rural Indiana communities,” said Braun. “This bill would establish a new office within the Department of Transportation that specifically addresses and provides support for critical transportation and infrastructure needs of rural America.”

Transportation infrastructure in rural areas has significant influence on economic development, from attracting businesses, tourism, commercial transport and deliveries, and general quality of life. Approximately 68% of the nation’s total road miles are in rural areas, and truck and rail freight transportation occur heavily through rural areas. Thirty-six percent of U.S. rural roads and nearly 10 percent of rural bridges are rated in poor or mediocre condition. The rural road fatality rate is 2 times higher than urban roads, with 45% of roadway and 34% of public highway-rail crossing fatalities occurring in rural areas.  

In 2019, following the first introduction of the Durbin-Braun bill, DOT responded by establishing a new effort to improve external outreach and internal coordination on rural issues, called the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES).  The Durbin-Braun bill again proposes a permanent, expanded rural function at DOT.

The Rural Transportation Equity Act of 2021 would specifically do the following:

  • Create a new USDOT Office of Rural Investment to improve internal coordination of USDOT functions that serve rural infrastructure.
  • Require stronger USDOT outreach, education, and technical assistance to rural communities that qualify for federal transportation assistance, including assistance with planning and coordination to maximize the competitive advantages of their rural regions and avoid duplication of transportation investments.
  • Establish an outside Rural Transportation Advisory Council to advise on issues specific to rural needs and make recommendations to improve rural equity in transportation investments.
  • Provide financial resources to achieve these objectives.