Howard Learner: Rural America needs more transportation alternatives


Posted Dec 03, 2009 @ 12:04 AM

Rural transportation has traditionally meant cars and pickups, highways and Greyhound buses. However, while the intercity buses are fewer and farther between, that doesn’t change people’s needs to get from place to place.

Most people have cars and trucks, but some elderly or disabled people can no longer drive, and with gas prices going up, some unemployed and lower-income people can no longer afford to drive much. In rural America, where the percentage of people over 65 years of age is expected to triple, mobility can be challenging and more transportation alternatives are needed.

The upcoming federal transportation reauthorization legislation should provide room for new ideas and mobility solutions. Congress can help provide rural Americans with better access to government and medical services, education, jobs and visits with friends and families. Here are two ways:

First, modern, fast, comfortable and convenient higher-speed intercity rail service will help rural transportation access. Most people think about high-speed rail as linking big Midwest cities, but carefully chosen stops along the way can provide important new transportation services for rural residents. The fast trains shouldn’t have a lot of stops, which would make them into milk runs. However, there will likely be stops in places like Bloomington and La Crosse and Watertown, Wis.

For example, the planned new high-speed rail service between Chicago and St. Louis should stop in Springfield. There are 15 counties in Illinois with more than 700,000 people within a 50-mile radius of Springfield. High-speed rail service would provide these residents with better access to Chicago, St. Louis and other cities in between. Scheduled shuttle buses between outlying rural towns and the Springfield train station could make this rail service more accessible for meeting rural mobility needs.

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