Aspen Institute discusses rural America’s needs while the infrastructure package awaits approval

The House returns to Washington next week to begin debate on the infrastructure bill and the budget. The Aspen Institute is looking at some of the biggest needs for rural communities.

7.5 percent of the nation’s bridges are considered structurally deficient by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Emily Feenstra, Managing Director of Government Affairs, says that rural communities often feel a greater impact when bridges close for repairs.

“That had an impact on global agriculture, you had huge, lengthy, costly detours to get goods to markets, you had emergency vehicles and school busses that couldn’t get where they needed to go in rural areas when some of these bridges weren’t in good working order,” Feenstra states. “Of course more often than that you see bridges posted with weight restrictions.”

Farmers and ranchers are often faced with extreme flooding when dams are poorly maintained.

According to Feenstra, “We have an increasing number of high hazard dams in this country and those aren’t necessarily in the poorest condition but they are high risk, meaning a failure could cause loss of life or property damage, and that’s happening in rural areas where those dams in rural areas were protecting a farm but now there’s downstream development of those dams.”

She says that it is also important to consider the gap in funding, between what is needed and what is actually getting paid for.

The ASCE estimates it at $2.6 trillion dollars across all categories of infrastructure, but surface transportation makes up nearly half the gap.

“We don’t expect the federal government to completely fill that gap, but we do see... state and local governments increasing funding for their infrastructure assets while infrastructure funding has remained stagnant up unto this point,” she adds.

As lawmakers look to solidify a historic investment in infrastructure, she says it will be important to provide technical assistance to small communities that may struggle to come up with matching funds, or navigate a complex system of grants and loans.

“There’s been strides made and increasing opportunities for rural communities to access some of those funds to think about some of the impacts that are unique to rural communities to come up with tailored programs and technical assistance,” she explains.

ASCE puts out an annual infrastructure scorecard that currently has all American infrastructure ranked as a C-.


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