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You Can't Get There from Here

October 28, 2011
By: Ed Clark, Top Producer Business and Issues Editor
road signs
Our rural road network has high maintenance costs in sparsely populated areas. Because our rural roads have a traffic fatality rate that is more than three times higher than all other roads, our challenge is to make them affordable and safe.  

Rural infrastructure costs farmers time, fuel and safety

It’s just human nature. We take all kinds of things for granted, but nothing so much as the roads and bridges that get us to town, to our fields and to the grain elevator.

The condition of the country’s roads and bridges affects our activities, bank accounts and personal safety on a daily basis. Long-delayed maintenance schedules are leading to load limit reductions and temporary closures.

Mylo, N.D., farmer Jason Martodam has to truck grain 60 miles to the elevator due to the closure of bad roads.

"It’s costing us thousands of dollars per year, if I figure in fuel costs," he says. Furthermore, one alternative route for him is down to 6 tons per axle. As for the money lost, he says, "I can’t make it up."

field to port logoFor a farmer with 300 acres of corn and 200 acres of soybeans who faces diesel prices near $4 per gallon, the impact of a bridge closure could mean a loss of 5¢ per bushel, according to independent research completed this year by Informa Economics for the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and the Illinois Soybean Association. If the detour extends to 30 miles or, in a worst-case scenario, 50 miles, the impact could be 11¢ per bushel, translating to more than $6,000 in additional costs annually for 500 acres. For 2,000 acres, costs could be an additional $24,000.

The numbers track with a 2009 Informa study for the Indiana Soybean Alliance (ISA) and the Indiana Corn Marketing Council (ICMC). A 5¢ per bushel loss "is a fair assessment for a 25-mile detour with diesel at $4 per gallon," says Emily Otto-Tice, director of supply and infrastructure for ISA and ICMC.

So how bad is the condition of rural roads and bridges nationally? A September 2011 study by TRIP, a national transportation research group, found the following:


  • Rural roads have a traffic fatality rate that is more than three times higher than that for all other roads.


  • In 2009, non-Interstate rural roads had a traffic fatality rate of 2.31 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel, compared with a fatality rate on all other roads of 0.76 deaths for an equal number of miles. Crashes on the nation’s rural, non-Interstate routes resulted in 17,075 fatalities in 2009, accounting for 51% of the nation’s 33,808 traffic deaths in 2009.


  • In 2008, 12% of the nation’s major rural roads were rated in poor condition and another 43% were rated in fair condition. Vermont has the highest percentage of roads rated poor, at 43%, followed by Oklahoma at 30%; Kansas, 28%; Missouri, 20%; California, 18%; South Dakota, 17%; and Illinois, 16%.


  • In 2010, 13% of the nation’s rural bridges were rated as structurally deficient and 10% were rated as functionally obsolete. A bridge is structurally deficient if there is significant deterioration of the bridge deck, supports or other major components. Structurally deficient bridges are often posted for lower weight or closed to traffic, restricting or redirecting large vehicles, including commercial trucks, school buses and emergency vehicles.


trucks on bridge
In a perfect world, this aging bridge would be taller to accommodate a passing tugboat pulling a barge fleet, as well as wider to accommodate larger trucks. In the agricultural export game, time is money to get products to consumers faster.

PHOTO: Pam Smith

A looming problem. Not all producers are being impacted by bad roads and bridges, but they can see the writing on the wall. Ron Kindred, who farms in Atlanta, Ill., and sits on the Illinois Soybean Association board, is not having to take any detours because of closed roads and bridges, but he’s convinced it’s coming if the problem of maintenance is not solved.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - November 2011
RELATED TOPICS: Transportation, Infrastructure

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COMMENTS (1 Comments)

Same subject:​
5:38 AM Nov 14th



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