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Transportation Options Crucial to Rural and Small Town Economic Development

April 13th, 2011

Story Contact: Nathan Hurst, 573-882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – In the current economic climate, many groups are fighting for dwindling government-funded transportation dollars. In a new study presented to the U.S. Congress, the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI), housed in the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri, found that America’s rural areas, small towns, and small cities require greater local control and flexibility in choosing among transportation investment options to maintain strong economies and quality of life.

The report shows that a variety of transportation investments, including transit, van pools, walking and biking paths, and roads and highways, are critical to the economic development and well-being of smaller communities and rural areas. However, many states allocate transportation funding at a broad state level, which often leads to metropolitan regional projects receiving greater priority. Charles Fluharty, the president and CEO of RUPRI, says that funding priorities should be determined regionally in a collaborative setting so that all areas’ needs are more fully met.

“Transportation investments that are not driven by locally identified priorities, and that do not build collaborative approaches, will lessen the potential to achieve key outcomes, including the creation of vibrant communities,” Fluharty said. “Investments that are set at a broader regional level are more likely to diminish the overall rural economic development potential, and may lead to unintended negative consequences, such as a reduced ability to pay for existing transportation improvements and services.”

The study reports on an in-depth literature review and offers policy recommendations as Congress considers reauthorizing the federal surface transportation bill. RUPRI’s recommendations include:

  • Supporting local engagement in planning, decision-making and resource allocation.
  • Encouraging innovation and integration for effective rural transportation outcomes.
  • Shifting resources to address the most pressing rural needs and opportunities as are locally defined.
  • Creating integrated regional transportation, economic development, and land-use planning and implementation.
  • Supporting greater attention to rural “place-making,” through quality of life investments that offer amenities that attract people to work and live in small cities and towns.

“Transportation investments are critical to the future of America’s small towns and cities and the rural regions surrounding them,” Fluharty said. “With public resources growing scarcer, federal policy must now give these regions the same latitude to set their own priorities and build collaborative and innovative approaches to achieve them from which our nation’s metropolitan regions have long benefited.”

Formed in 1990 at the request of members of the Senate Agriculture Committee with foundational support from Iowa State University, University of Nebraska and the University of Missouri, RUPRI is now an institution of international significance with a nationwide presence. RUPRI’s mission is to provide objective analysis and facilitate public dialogue on the rural impacts of public policies and programs.