Feb 22, 2020 - Economy & Business

America's rundown roads add to farmers' struggles

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

American farmers are struggling to safely use the roads that cut through their fields; decades of neglect and lack of funding have made the routes dangerous.

The big picture: President Trump has long promised to invest billions in rural infrastructure, and his latest proposal would allocate $1 trillion for such projects. Rural America, where many of Trump's supporters live, would see a large chunk of that money.

The Trump plan includes:

  • $35 billion to repair some of the country's 47,000 bridges, most of which are in rural areas and in poor condition.
  • $25 billion to increase access to broadband, transportation, water and other projects.

How Trump plans to pay for it: The proposal relies entirely on federal funding, rather than a portion coming from states and local government. A large chunk of the money would come from existing fuel tax revenue, AP reports.

  • The big question: It's still unclear how Trump plans to fund the full $1 trillion. He still lacks revenue sources for the $450 billion he's proposing for roads, bridges, public transit and other infrastructure needs, per AP.

Why it matters: Rural America's decaying arteries are unable to handle the weight of large farm equipment or tractor-trailers hauling freight, creating dangerous driving conditions that force some farmers to take miles of detours to get to a destination less than half a mile away, the New York Times reports.

  • The scarce funding forces rural counties to patch stressed routes, rather than repave them, as a more affordable alternative.

National Transportation Research Group highlighted some of rural America's challenges:

  • Streets fail to connect communities locally and nationally.
  • Roads cannot support the growing number of freight trucks traveling across the country.
  • Fatalities are higher on rural roads and bridges because of deterioration and a lack of safety features.

The state of play: 19% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but 68% of the country's total lane-miles are in rural America, according to the Department of Transportation.

  • Two-thirds of freight runs begin their journeys in rural America, and traffic continues to increase.
  • A semi-trailer truck can cause 5,000 to 10,000 times more damage to a road than a car, the Times notes.
  • The fatality rate on rural roads is 2.1 times higher than on urban roads, per DOT.

Between the lines: Axios' Alayna Treene reports that Trump and Democrats in Congress are actually closely aligned on the need for improved infrastructure. Left to his own devices, Trump would happily spend federal money on the projects, but his own party is holding him back.

  • Disagreements over how much tax money to allocate for the projects have prevented the Trump administration from getting meaningful legislation passed and have contributed to several "infrastructure week" discussions at the White House.

Meanwhile, passing the broader FY 2021 budget will be an uphill battle for the Trump administration. Democrats are already attacking many of the proposed cuts to domestic programs, particularly reductions to Medicaid, The Washington Post reports.

Go deeper: The rural America death spiral

Go deeper

Rural residents' access to health care amid coronavirus

Jen Lingo, R.N., walks a resident of the assisted living center in Dayton General Hospital back to her room. Dayton, a small town in rural southeast Washington, has an aging population, had its first positive test for Coronavirus and is waiting on results of more tests. Photo: Nick Otto for the Washington Post

The novel coronavirus can spread faster in densely populated cities than in rural areas, but rural America has a higher-risk population and fewer safety-net programs for people who get sick.

By the numbers: Rural residents are, overall, older than urban dwellers and are therefore more susceptible to this virus. Per Census Bureau data, 17.5% of the rural population is 65 or older.

Go deeperArrowMar 18, 2020 - Health

Rural America's meager business growth

Reproduced from Center for American Progress; Chart: Axios Visuals

The growth of small businesses has been concentrated in big cities and urban suburbs since the Great Recession, while nearly all rural areas have experienced substantial loss of businesses in the past decade.

Why it matters: "Firm growth is a crucial part of economic development, and business creation has been critical in the aftermath of previous recessions. But policies geared toward encouraging startups have not been effective in rural areas, leading to a growing regional divide," per a new report by the Center for American Progress.

Democratic health care debate topics finally expand past Medicare for All

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Democrats finally debated health care subjects other than Medicare for All on Tuesday night.

Why it matters: We have a much wider range of health care problems than political debates usually suggest. Discussing rural Americans' lack of access to health care may not be as exciting as debating whether to do away with private insurance, but it's a subject that many voters struggle with every day.

Go deeperArrowFeb 26, 2020 - Health