One-fifth of rural roads in Washington are in poor condition, only 11 states post a worse record, according to national study

Washington rural road conditions are 12th worst in the nation, according to a new study by TRIP, a national transportation organization. The report says 21 percent of Washington’s major rural roads were in poor condition in 2015. Leading the “worst shape” list was Rhode Island, with 41 percent of that state’s roads in poor condition. (Just an aside, how much rural pavement can there be in the Ocean State?)

While many transportation discussions focus on congestion problems in metro areas, TRIP points out the importance of rural roads.

America’s rural heartland plays a vital role as home to a significant share of the nation’s population, many of its natural resources, and popular tourist destinations. It is also the primary source of the energy, food and fiber that supports America’s economy and way of life. The strength of the nation’s rural economy is heavily reliant on the quality of its transportation system, particularly the roads and highways that link rural America with the rest of the U.S. and to markets in other countries. The quality and connectivity of America’s rural transportation system supports the economy of the entire nation and quality of life for the approximately 60 million Americans living in rural areas.

Good transportation is essential in rural areas to provide access to jobs, to facilitate the movement of goods and people, to access opportunities for health care and educational skills, and to provide links to other social services. Transportation supports businesses and is a critical factor in a company’s decision to locate new business operations. For communities that rely on tourism and natural amenities to help support their economy, transportation is the key link between visitors and destinations.

The press release from the American Traffic Safety Services Association regarding the study says,

TRIP studies found 15 percent of U.S. rural roads are in poor condition, 21 percent in mediocre condition, 16 percent are rated as being in fair condition and the remaining 48 percent are in good condition. The report also showed 10 percent of U.S. rural bridges are considered structurally deficient – having significant deterioration to major bridge components. Additionally, traffic crashes and fatalities on rural non-Interstate roads are reported to be disproportionately high, two-and-a-half times higher than on other roadways.

“Rural roads account for only about 25 percent of vehicle miles traveled, but 50 percent of roadway fatalities,” said American Traffic Safety Services Association Communications Director James Baron. “Many of these roads have no markings to guide motorists. Installing brighter signs and markings, rumble strips, guardrails, and high friction surfacing treatments on sharp curves will help save lives on these roadways.”

In the 2017 update to our foundation report, we reported that passage of the $16 billion state multi-modal transportation investment in 2015 was an important legislative policy success. We wrote than of the importance of comprehensive transportation solutions to all parts of Washington.

We all depend on Washington’s transportation system. From wheat farmers on the Palouse to winemakers in the Columbia Valley, our state’s agricultural industry needs an efficient transportation system to get products to markets along the Pacific Rim and around the world. Manufacturers must efficiently move materials and components to their factories and finished goods to their customers. Businesses of all sizes rely on their employees getting to work on time. Families and individuals travel on our roads and bridges to get to school, health care, and recreation.

The TRIP report provides useful new information regarding the often-overlooked transportation challenges in rural communities.