There are listening tours all across rural — the latest we see being by federal Department of Transportation folks in North Dakota. The federal surface transportation program expired last September and has remained in limbo as Congress thrashed about recession, health care and financial rules. In the meantime, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood traveled to Bismarck to hear what rural areas might want out of a new transportation bill.
LaHood said after the meeting: “Rural America will not be left out. There’s only one thing stopping us: $600 billion.” In North Dakota, there was a lot of talk about rural roads clogged by equipment in the state’s booming oil industry. “We have a mix of traffic,” said City Commissioner Brad Bekkedahl from Williston. “It’s the oil industry which is long, oversized, overweight, slow-moving convoys … tourism traffic and agricultural traffic. … You put all that on the road system and you get impatient drivers and you get fatalities.”
The old transportation bill was extended until the end of this year. So the lobbying on what will be in the new bill is starting to get fast and furious. Rural interests have their own lobbying group, Transportation 4 America. The group is asking Congress to include rural communities in transportation planning and to use transportation funding to help revitalize small towns.