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National study says Arkansas' rural roads has high rate of fatalities, deficiencies

A national transportation research group has released a report stating that Arkansas’ rural roads have a high rate of traffic fatalities and deficiencies.  The report was released this week by the group TRIP, and examined where individual states ranked in the different variables used for the study. The study defined rural roads as those roads that are used leaving cities with a population of five thousand or more.   

“The report found there were significant deficiencies both in terms of the roads and bridges in the state, and we are seeing increased travel on rural roads in Arkansas,” said Rocky Moretti, director of TRIP and lead researcher of the non-profit group.  “Large commercial trucks use the rural roads for agriculture use and energy extraction and the use of renewable energy.  That’s great for the economy, but it puts a lot of stress on the older roads”.             

Moretti tells about some of the challenges that face the state.

“I think what is challenging is funding.  The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department recognizes the challenge and, to the best they can, they have been making steps to make roads safer.  Due to limited resources, some of the safety improvements that are desirable have not been made yet in Arkansas.  That is what is leading to Arkansas’ fatality rate being three times higher on its rural roads than all other roads in the state.”

According to the report, in 2012, non-Interstate rural roads in Arkansas had a traffic fatality rate of 2.71 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel, the fifth highest in the nation.  The report also states that 23 percent of Arkansas’ major rural roads were rated in poor condition, the 10th highest rate nationally. He gives some of the conclusions from the study

“Arkansas is a state that has its share of rural communities, and a lot of people are using these roads as they go about their daily lives.  Obviously, we are also seeing businesses, such as farmers, manufacturers, and other businesses use these roads every day,” said Moretti.  “What I think is critical is the public has every right to expect to drive on safe roads, so that if mistakes are made while driving, those mistakes can be corrected as safely as possible.  Unfortunately, rural roads are not as safe as they should be, and safety should be the main goal.”

The TRIP report finds that the U.S. needs to adopt transportation policies that will improve rural transportation connectivity, safety and conditions to provide the nation’s small communities and rural areas with safe and efficient access to support quality of life and enhance economic productivity. To accomplish this, the report recommends modernizing and extending key routes to accommodate personal and commercial travel, implementing needed roadway safety improvements, improving public transit access to rural areas, and adequately funding the preservation and maintenance of rural transportation assets.

Johnathan Reaves is the News Director for KASU Public Radio. As part of an Air Force Family, he moved to Arkansas from Minot, North Dakota in 1986. He was first bitten by the radio bug after he graduated from Gosnell High School in 1992. While working on his undergraduate degree, he worked at KOSE, a small 1,000 watt AM commercial station in Osceola, Arkansas. Upon graduation from Arkansas State University in 1996 with a degree in Radio-Television Broadcast News, he decided that he wanted to stay in radio news. He moved to Stuttgart, Arkansas and worked for East Arkansas Broadcasters as news director and was there for 16 years.