Wednesday, June 28, 2017

THE DEADLY U.S. ROADS: Crashes on North Carolina's network of rural roads claim more lives than all but two states in the country

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- They're narrow, they curve, they slope and they kill.

Crashes on North Carolina's network of rural roads claim more lives than all but two states in the country, according to report by TRIP, a national transportation research group.

The data from 2015 shows 855 traffic-related deaths on non-interstate rural roads, trailing only Texas and California. The 855 fatalities also accounts for 62% of all traffic deaths in the state, even as only 31% of the population lives in what the state considers rural areas.

"If you're going to travel this beautiful state, you're going to travel on rural roads," Larry Wooten, President of the NC Farm Bureau, explained to ABC11. "Many of them are winding, narrow and sometimes not very well lit at night."

According to Wooten, more than 50,000 farmers use the rural roads but they're hardly the only ones; tourists travel them to the mountains and the beach, while the growth of the Triangle also extends 20-30 miles outside the city limits.

"Rural roads are important to the economy in North Carolina," Wooten said. "We've got to make sure they remain safe and modern for our transportation needs."

Tiffany Wright, President of AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety, asserted some inexpensive improvements can reduce the risk.

"Updated guard rails, wider shoulders and rumble strips can help drivers correct themselves when they've veered off the road," Wright explained. "These safety measures can help prevent some of the tiniest mistakes from turning into big mistakes with deadly consequences. North Carolinians who live and travel on rural roads deserve a transportation system that is safe, sufficient and reliable."

To read the full report, visit

Executive Summary
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.

Roads, highways, rails and bridges in the nation’s heartland face a number of significant
challenges: they lack adequate capacity, they fail to provide needed levels of connectivity to many communities, and they cannot adequately support growing freight travel in many corridors. Rural roads and bridges have significant deficiencies and deterioration, they lack many desirable safety features, and they experience fatal traffic crashes at a rate far higher than all other roads and highways. 

This report looks at the condition, use and safety of the nation’s rural transportation
system, particularly its roads, highways and bridges, and identifies needed improvements.
Rural areas in this report are based on the U.S. Census Bureau definition, which defines rural
areas as regions outside of urban areas with a population of 2,500 or more. Road, bridge and
safety data in this report is based on the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) definition for
rural areas, which allows states to use the U.S. Census Bureau definition to identify rural routes
or to define rural areas as regions outside of urban areas with a population of 5,000 or more. The
following are the key findings of the report.

An aging and increasingly diverse rural America plays a vital role as home to a significant share of the nation’s population, natural resources and tourist destinations. It is also the primary source of the energy, food and fiber that drive the U.S. economy. Rural Americans are more reliant on their transportation system than their urban counterparts.
• While there are many ways to define rural, the U.S. Census Bureau defines rural areas as
regions outside of urban areas with a population of 2,500 or more.

• According to the U.S. Census Bureau definition, 19 percent of the nation’s residents live in
rural areas – approximately 60 million of the nation’s 316 million people in 2015.

• The nation’s rural areas account for 97 percent of America’s land area and are home to the
vast majority of the nation’s 2.2 million farms.

• America’s rural population increased gradually each year from 1976 to 2010, rising between 0.1
and 1.5 percent each year. From 2010 to 2014, the nation’s rural population declined slightly by
0.3 percent before stabilizing in 2015 as rural areas continued to recover from the Great

• While overall rural populations declined slightly between 2010 and 2014, population did
increase in some rural areas during that time. This population increase occurred primarily in rural
counties that have been impacted by increased energy extraction, particularly in the Northern Great
Plains as well as portions of Arkansas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas.

• Unemployment in rural areas increased from 5.2 percent in 2007 to 9.9 percent in 2010, before
decreasing to 5.7 percent in 2015.

• America’s rural economy is far more reliant on goods production, which includes farming,
forestry, fishing, mining and energy extraction, and manufacturing, than is the nation’s urban

• Many of the transportation challenges facing rural America are similar to those in urbanized
areas. However, rural residents tend to be more heavily reliant on their limited transportation
network - primarily rural roads and highways - than their counterparts in more urban areas.
Residents of rural areas often must travel longer distances to access education, employment, retail
locations, social opportunities and health services.

• The rural U.S. population is aging more rapidly than the nation as a whole. The share of older
adults in rural areas is disproportionate, with 17.2 percent of those living in rural areas over
age 65, while 12.8 percent of residents in urban areas and 13 percent of the nation’s total
population are over 65.

• The movement of retiring baby boomers to rural America is likely to continue in the future as
aging Americans seek out communities that offer affordable housing, small- town quality of life and
desirable natural amenities, while often located within a short drive of larger metropolitan areas.

• Rural areas are growing increasingly more diverse. Although racial and ethnic minorities make
up only 21 percent of the rural population, minorities accounted for nearly 83 percent of rural
population growth between 2000 and 2010.

• The amount of rural tourism in a region is tied partly to the level of highway access.
Eighty-six percent of trips taken by Americans to visit rural areas are for leisure purposes.

• Popular tourism activities in rural America include hiking, golfing, biking, hunting, fishing
and water sports. Rural areas are also home to beaches, national and state parks, wineries,
orchards and other national amenities.

The quality of life in America’s small communities and rural areas and the health of the nation’s
rural economy is highly reliant on the quality of the nation’s transportation system, particularly
its roads, highways and bridges. America’s rural transportation network provides the first and last
link in the supply chain from farm to market while supporting the tourism industry and enabling the
production of energy, food and fiber.

• Freight mobility and efficiency is fundamental to rural economic vitality and prosperity.
Economic growth and stability in rural areas is heavily reliant on the ability to move raw
materials into, or the value-added products out of, these areas.

• Agriculture, food, and related industries, including food and beverage manufacturing, apparel
manufacturing and food and beverage stores and establishments -- which rely on agricultural inputs -- contributed $992 billion to the U.S. GDP in 2015 – 5.5 percent of overall U.S. GDP.

• Despite record yields, lower crop prices have resulted in total U.S. crop receipts declining
from a record $232 billion in 2012 to a forecast $187 billion in 2017.

• While farming accounts for just six percent of all jobs in rural America, for every person
employed in farming there are seven more jobs in agribusiness, including wholesale and retail
trade, processing, marketing, production, and distribution.

• Employment in goods production, which includes farming, forestry, fishing, mining and energy
extraction, accounts for 11 percent of earnings in the nation’s rural economy versus two percent in the urban economy.

• Manufacturing jobs account for 15 percent of earnings in the nation’s rural economy versus
nine percent in the urban economy.

• A United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report found that “an effective
transportation system supports rural economies, reducing the prices farmers pay for inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, raising the value of their crops and greatly increasing market access.”

• Trucks provide the majority of transportation for agricultural products, accounting for 46
percent of total ton miles of travel compared to 36 percent by rail and 12 percent by barge.

• Trucks account for the vast majority of transportation for perishable agricultural items,
carrying 91 percent of ton miles of all fruit, vegetables, livestock, meat, poultry and dairy
products in the U.S.

• The Council of State Governments recently found that “rural highways provide many benefits to
the nation’s transportation system, including serving as a bridge to other states, supporting the
agriculture and energy industries, connecting economically challenged citizens in remote locations
to employers, enabling the movement of people and freight and providing access to America’s tourist attractions.”

• The rapid expansion of the energy extraction industry, particularly in the Great Plains
states, has consumed rail capacity that had previously been used to move agricultural goods. As a result, the agricultural goods that had been shipped by rail are now being moved via alternate
transportation means, placing additional stress on the rural highway system and increasing costs to farmers and consumers.

• Transportation is becoming an even more critical segment of the food distribution network.
While food demand is concentrated mostly in urban areas, food distribution is the most dispersed
segment of the economy.

• A highly competitive and efficient transportation system can lead to lower food costs for
U.S. consumers and higher market prices for producers due to lower shipping costs, smaller margins and more competitive export prices.

• A report by the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council recommends that governments improve the quality of their transportation systems serving the movement of goods from rural to urban regions as a strategy to lower food costs and increase economic prosperity.

• A report on agricultural transportation by the USDA found it likely that market changes and
shifts in consumer preferences would further increase the reliance on trucking to move U.S.
agricultural products.

The condition and quality of the nation’s highway system plays a critical role in providing access to America's many tourist destinations, particularly its scenic parks and recreational areas, which are mostly located in rural areas.

• In 2016, travel and tourism related spending in the U.S. contributed $1.5 trillion to U.S.
Gross Domestic Product. Tourism related jobs employed 5.5 million Americans in 2016.
• America’s national parks, which are largely located in rural areas, received a record 331
million visitors in 2016, many in personal vehicles.

Travel loads on America’s rural roads are increasing dramatically due to the booming energy extraction sector. This has been driven by increases in domestic oil and gas extraction, largely as a result of advancements in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which has greatly increased the accessibility of shale oil and gas deposits, as well as the increased production of renewable energy such as wind and solar.

• Ethanol production in the U.S. increased from 1.7 billion gallons in 2000 to 13.3 billion
gallons in 2016.