Rural communities in the United States have suffered decades of disinvestment. 13.1% of rural roads, and about 10.6% of off-system bridges—most of which are in rural areas—are in poor condition.
Additionally, while 19% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, 45% of all roadway fatalities occur on rural roads, making the fatality rate on rural roads two times higher than on urban roads.
The $973 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) will deliver billions to rural communities across the country to create economic opportunity. It will provide high-speed internet, safe roads and bridges, modern wastewater systems, clean drinking water, reliable and affordable electricity, and good-paying jobs in small towns and rural communities.
It aims to help rural communities respond to current challenges by repairing roads and bridges, improving transportation options, and upgrading airports and ports to ensure that people and goods alike can move safely and efficiently. BIL will rebuild and repair rural infrastructure, provide connectivity that will spur economic growth in rural communities…all of which should boost employment.
The Department of Transportation is leading this effort, focused on rural transportation systems.
Investing in Rural Transportation Systems
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes new and expanded programs that will benefit rural communities and support the transportation system as a whole.
- Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program – $2 billion. BIL includes $2 billion—including $300 million in FY22—for a new rural surface transportation grant program which will provide competitive grants to state and regional transportation planning organizations, local governments, and Tribal governments to improve and expand the surface transportation infrastructure in rural areas. The goals of the program include increasing connectivity, improving safety and reliability of the movement of people and freight, and generating regional economic growth and improving quality of life.
- Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES): The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law establishes in statute the ROUTES initiative. ROUTES will provide technical assistance to rural communities, Tribes, and historically disadvantaged communities in order to meet the transportation infrastructure investment needs in a financially sustainable manner. BIL also establishes an office within the Department of Transportation to address the needs of entities seeking Federal grants and assistance for rural projects. ROUTES was first established in 2019 and currently provides technical assistance for rural stakeholders as a single point of contact at DOT.
- Surface Transportation Block Grant Program – $72 billion. BIL Creates a new set-aside for projects in rural areas within the $72 billion Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, which will support rural communities in preserving and improving their highways and bridges, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and transit capital projects.
- Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grant Program – $500 million. BIL includes $500 million—including $100 million in FY22—for a new Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grant Program which will provide funding to projects across rural, midsized, and large communities. The SMART Grant program will deliver competitive grants to States, local governments, and Tribes for projects that improve transportation safety and efficiency.
- Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) – $7.5 billion. BIL increases the Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program funding, providing $1.5 billion in FY22 and $7.5 billion overall, supporting surface transportation projects of local and/or regional significance. RAISE grants require an equal split between urban and rural areas.
- Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects –$8 billion. BIL increases funding for the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects (also known as INFRA) in rural communities. It also amends INFRA to include a minimum 30 percent set-aside for small projects, largely intended for rural areas, an increase from the 25 percent set-aside under the FAST Act. INFRA is also expanded under BIL, with $1.6 billion available in FY22. These funds will support rural communities by funding highway and rail projects of regional and national economic significance – catalyzing economic growth and creating jobs in these communities.
Investing in Rural Roads and Bridges
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest in rural roads and bridges. Investments will support the safe and efficient movement of people and goods on rural roads and bridges.
- Bridge Funding – $40 billion. Increases funding for bridges benefiting rural areas so that they have the necessary resources to keep bridges in a state of good repair. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes the single largest investment in repairing and reconstructing our nation’s bridges since the construction of the interstate highway system, with $2.4 billion in competitive funding and $5.5 billion in formula funding available for bridges in FY2022. Over five years, this amounts to a $27.5 billion investment in formula funding for bridges, and $12.5 billion in competitive funding. This will include investments to bridges that are in rural and Tribal areas. The bridge formula program includes a 15% minimum set-aside for bridges located off of the Federal-aid highway system. 87% of off-system bridges are located in rural areas, so BIL will provide substantially more federal funding to these bridges. Off-system bridges are also eligible for 100% Federal cost share. This will help fix smaller bridges that are not part of the Federal-aid highway system but provide important connections in rural communities and are traditionally harder to fund. Applications for the competitive funding will open in Summer 2022. $5.5 billion for the bridge formula program has already been allocated to states and territories earlier for FY2022.
- Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program – $350 million. BIL provides $60 million in FY22 and $350 million over four years for the Wildlife Crossing Safety program. BIL establishes a pilot program to provide grants for projects designed to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve habitat connectivity. It also requires the Secretary to update a 2008 study on wildlife vehicle collisions, including the causes and impacts of wildlife collisions as well as solutions and best practices for reducing wildlife collisions and improving habitat connectivity.
- National Culvert Removal, Replacement, and Restoration Program – $1 billion. BIL Includes $200 million in FY22 and $1 billion overall for a National Culvert Removal, Replacement, and Restoration Program to provide grants to states, local governments, and Tribes to address anadromous fish passage as well as provide funding for certain freshwater impacts to marine fish and shellfish species.
Investing in Rural Rail Infrastructure
Rural communities will benefit from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s historic investment in rail. BIL authorizes $66 billion in supplemental appropriations over five years in passenger and freight rail.
- Rural priorities for rail investment. BIL includes a new competitive railroad crossing elimination grant to make improvements to highway and pathway rail crossings, such as eliminating highway-rail at-grade crossings that are frequently blocked by trains, adding gates or signals, relocating track, or installing a bridge. $600 million is included for the Railroad Crossing Elimination program in FY22, and at least 20 percent of funds are reserved for projects in rural areas or on Tribal lands. This program will improve the safety of communities and the mobility of people and goods. BIL also prohibits Amtrak from discontinuing, reducing the frequency of, suspending, or substantially altering the route of rail service on any segment of any long-distance route if Amtrak receives adequate funding for that route. Applications for this competitive funding will open in Summer 2022.
- Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program (CRISI) – $5 billion. BIL allocates $5 billion, including $1 billion in FY22, for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program (CRISI), which funds projects that improve the safety, efficiency, and reliability of intercity passenger and freight rail. More information is available on the Federal Railroad Administration’s website.
Investing in Rural Transit and Electric Vehicles
Rural communities will also benefit from the largest investment in transit in American history included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. BIL authorizes $91.2 billion, in mandatory transit funding and supplemental transit appropriations over five years, which will benefit communities across the country.
- Ferry Service for Rural Communities – $1 billion. BIL includes $200 million in FY22 and $1 billion overall for a new rural ferry program to ensure that essential ferry service continues to be provided to rural areas by allocating funds to states to support this service.
- Formula Grants for Rural Areas – $4.6 billion. BIL amends the Rural Area Formula Grant Program by establishing fixed percentages for the Public Transportation on Indian Reservations and the Appalachian Development Public Transportation Assistance programs. More than $875 million is available in FY22 for Formula Grants for Rural Areas under BIL, a 30 percent increase over levels in the final year of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. This program provides capital, planning, and operating assistance to States to support public transportation in rural areas with populations of less than 50,000.
- Bus and Bus Facilities – 10.8 billion. BIL increases funding for the Bus and Bus Facilities competitive grant program, providing $447 million in FY22. 15 percent of these funds are set-aside for rural communities, an increase from the 10 percent set-aside in the FAST Act. This will allow more rural communities to replace, repair, and purchase buses and construct bus-related facilities. Low-emission and no-emission buses and vehicles are eligible to receive funding under this program.
- Electric Vehicle Charging Network. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests in electric vehicle infrastructure with a focus on rural communities. BIL will provide up to $300 million in FY22 in funding to establish convenient electric vehicle charging where people live, work, and shop through the new charging and fueling infrastructure competitive grants program, on top of the $1 billion in formula funding in FY22 dedicated to building out an electric vehicle charging network. These grants will be prioritized for rural areas, low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, and communities with low ratios of private parking, or high ratios of multiunit dwellings. The Department of Transportation has also released a toolkit for rural communities to plan and fund the infrastructure needed to build a rural EV network.
Photo of covered bridge in Ohio via Pixabay.