Addressing Rural Transportation Needs and Issues
Testimony submitted to:
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Hearing on Rural Transportation
August 20, 2002
On behalf of:
New England Transportation Institute and Museum’s
Rural Transportation Learning Center
Beginning around 1850, rail transportation emerged as a dominant mode for both personal and freight transportation in rural New England. Railroads shaped rural centers such as White River Junction, Vermont, Lebanon, New Hampshire and many other communities throughout the region. Just as the railroads affected the development of rural communities, so too have automobiles and trucks. Trails and paths were widened and resurfaced to accommodate these new vehicles and a tremendous investment was made to construct new highways. As a result of that investment, Vermont and nine other rural states now comprise the top ten in paved roadway miles per capita. For many residents of these rural states, the roadways have provided increased mobility and that increased mobility has in turn caused profound changes in the physical and economic structure of rural communities.
While this mobility created new economic opportunities for rural regions, it also resulted in growth and development spreading away from the compact town centers that had grown up around rail stations and, instead, along highways into the rural lands. And, our investment in highways and resulting shifts in development patterns has indirectly resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of public transportation service provided within rural regions and between those regions and the major metropolitan centers. For example, passenger rail service is now available to only a small fraction of the many train stations that once served rural communities.
The landmark ISTEA and TEA-21 transportation authorizations recognized the need to develop and maintain transportation alternatives to the private automobile and rural regions have actively pursued these alternatives. Vermont has both maintained AMTRAK service in the state and has initiated a regional rail service in the Burlington area. New Hampshire and Maine have successfully restored Boston to Portland rail service. And, there are numerous rural transit services that provide both safety-net and general public transportation. ISTEA and TEA-21 both funded the development of Intelligent Transportation Systems and rural areas have benefited from these technologies.
While ISTEA and TEA-21 have brought benefits to many rural areas, it is fair to say that the majority of national research and policy-discussion about transportation and community development has focused on metropolitan areas. At one level, this is understandable given the high concentration of the nation’s population in urban areas. At another level, however, it is an unfortunate oversight as rural areas play an important role in the overall economic, cultural, and environmental value of regions and our nation. As a nation, we simply have not examined the needs of our rural citizens as extensively as we have the needs of the citizens of the major metropolitan areas.
But we do know some basic facts about transportation problems in the rural areas of this country. In the 13 Northeastern states, we see that our rural citizens have significantly lower levels of household income than in those in the more urbanized regions. But, at the same time we observe that the rate of auto ownership is significantly higher in the rural areas. We know also that our rural citizens have to make longer trips and in fact travel about 30% more miles than their urban counterparts. This translates into the fact that our rural citizens spend a far greater proportion of their total income on basic transportation and it means that they have less money to spend on other necessities such as housing, food, or education. On the other hand, we also know that work commuting distances are shorter than the national average among residents of the small towns within rural regions and that focusing rural development around these traditional town centers reduces dependence on automobile travel.
And, there so much we do not know. We have not properly examined the problems of limited mobility among important segments of the rural population, particularly as experienced by older citizens, and those who do not have access to a car. As the population ages, this will become an even more pressing issue for the rural regions.
Just as railroads and automobiles have had profound impacts on the shape of rural communities, new information and communication technologies will also significantly affect the ways in which these communities develop in the future. We have already seen new types of economic clusters forming in rural New England around information-oriented businesses. These businesses in turn have new and very different transportation needs.
Our region is fortunate to have intercity rail, bus and air services that connect our rural areas to the major metropolitan areas. But, planning a trip by combinations of bus, rail, and even air simply cannot be accomplished at any one location. One important strategy to deal with rural mobility is to help travelers understand just what combinations of services are available. Every major nation in Europe has a program to help its citizens plan rural trips by modes other than the private auto; from a technical point of view, it would be easy to apply this technology to our rural areas. In general, complementary investments in a multimodal transportation network and in technologies to provide information to the users of that network will greatly facilitate new economic activities as well as tourism and the other traditional parts of northern New England’s rural economy.
The primary goal of the Rural Transportation Learning Center is heighten the level of policy, technical, and cultural learning relating to rural transportation and its impact on communities and regions. Its focus is both regional and national, aiming to explore our regional, past, present and future as a means to inform the national understanding on rural transportation and its relationship to national economic, social and environmental goals.
The Center is achieving this vision through three spheres of activities that are organized around programs of the New England Transportation Institute and Museum (NETIM): first, the Museum, uses historical resources and scholarly study to understand how transportation has affected rural regions; second, the Institute conducts research to identify emerging trends and technologies and to explore ways of using transportation to facilitate the economic, cultural and environmental quality of rural communities, and, finally, the larger public is brought into the learning process through the Museum’s many outreach programs and by its excursion railroad.
Woven throughout these activities is the philosophy that history and research can inform our future. We can go “back to the future”, by exploiting the best of our contemporary knowledge, technologies, and processes to create a rural transportation system that embodies the best of rural community history and character. As an example, the Center is especially interested in researching ways of using the new information infrastructure to enhance the use of our intermodal facilities as well as help grow local economies. In this research program, it will be working with several prominent researchers (including Thomas Horan, Lee Munnich and Mathew Coogan) to develop a national model for how information technologies can assist in making regional intermodal travel to and from our towns and recreational areas a seamless and safe experience. Moreover, it will be looking at extending this use of technology to encourage “rural knowledge clusters” of workers in rural areas through teleworking and other “smart travel” means. The Center will complement this research with reviews of how demographic and economic trends may affect future rural transportation programs.
While the Center’s research extends into the future, it continues down an aggressive path to preserve the past through plans to purchase historic transportation facilities in White River Junction. Our objective is to preserve the historical character of these facilities and environs, so that visitors can have a grounded experience on the vital role that transportation plays in communities. We expect NETIM to be visited by Vermonters, New Englanders, and national and international research guests. Our program encompasses exhibitions, seminar series and, in the future, summer institutes. This program is detailed in Attachment A.
The transportation needs of rural areas are different from those of urban areas and, in general, have not been studied to the same extent. The coming surface transportation re-authorization represents a unique opportunity to ensure that rural transportation needs are analyzed and addressed in ways that enhance the economic vitality, environmental quality and quality of life in rural communities.
Matthew A. Coogan, "Rural Mobility Issues: Dealing with Isolation through Passenger Information," ITS America Annual Meeting, Long Beach California, April 2002.
Matthew A. Coogan "Rural Mobility Issues,
Understanding the Coalition Region" Keynote Presentation at the Rural
Exchange Forum, sponsored by the University of Massachusetts and the I-95
Corridor Coalition, Amherst, MA, March 2002.
Lee Munnich and Greg Schrock, "Rural Knowledge Clusters: The Challenge of Rural Economic Prosperity." SLPP Staff Working Paper (March 2002), forthcoming in Norman Walzer (editor), Managing Change During Transition: Issues Facing the Rural Midwest. University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
Matthew A. Coogan, "Statewide Mobility Issues," Keynote Presentation, Vermont Mobility Summit, Vermont Commission on Rehabilitation, Montpelier, Vermont, December 2001.
Matthew A. Coogan, "Passenger Travel in the I-95 Corridor Coalition Region: Where do we travel? How do we travel? and Why?" Published on the Web by the I-95 Corridor Coalition, Intermodal Program Track Committee, October 2001.
Thomas Horan, "Rural Telematics: Opportunities and Challenges", Presentation at 2001 Rural Advanced Technology and Transportation Systems Conference, Burlington, Vermont, August 25, 2001.
Matthew A. Coogan, "Beyond the MPO, Looking for Models of Collaboration" Keynote Presentation at the Rural Advanced Technology and Transportation Systems Conference, Burlington, Vermont, August 2001.
Thomas Horan, Hank Dittmar, and Daniel Jordan, D. “ ISTEA and the New Era of Transportation Policy ” in D. Mazmanian and M. Kraft (EDS). Toward Sustainable Communities: Transitions and Transformations in Environmental Policy. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.
Thomas J. Adler and Craig Leiner, “Traffic Effects of Creating a City Center in a Suburban Community,” in Proceedings of the Institute of Transportation Engineers Annual Meeting, ITE, Washington D. C., 1991.
Thomas J. Adler, S. Tahmosh and M. Burton, ”Low Density Transit Planning Package,” distributed by U.S. DOT, February 1984.
Thomas J. Adler and Yorgos Stephanedes, “Forecasting Experiments for Rural Transit Policymakers,” Transportation Research Record #718, Transportation Research Board, Washington, D.C., 1979.
The Rural Transportation Learning Center (RTLC) provides a comprehensive set of regional and national programs to examine past, current, and future trends in rural transportation especially as relates to improving community economic vitality. The demonstration component of the learning center includes establishment of an interactive and excursion center in White River Junction and surrounding Vermont and New Hampshire communities. The learning program includes seminars, summer institutes and outreach activities about rural transportation and community needs to learners of all ages. The research program examines demographic, economic and technological dimensions to rural travel and strategies for community development. RTLC is managed by the New England Transportation Institute and Museum (NETIM), a non-profit corporation.
The mission of the Rural Transportation Learning Center (RTLC) is to enhance regional and national understanding of the role of transportation in creating economically vibrant rural communities. RTLC aims to fill a critical void in national transportation policy by identifying major demographic, economic, and technology influences on transportation and rural communities. The center informs students, citizens, scholars, and policy makers through a range of learning programs, seminars, excursions, and research initiatives
The mission of RTLC’s is pursued through three programmatic themes: Learning From the Past, Understanding the Present, and Contributing to the Future.
The mission and themes of RTLC will be accomplished through a series of high priority programs. These programs encompass new demonstrations, learning experiences, and research programs.
RTLC is managed by the New England Transportation Institute and Museum (NETIM). NETIM is the successor to the Vermont Railroad Museum, which was founded in White River Junction in 1980 for the purpose of identifying, collecting, and archiving regional railroading artifacts and memorabilia. The Museum obtained and has preserved an historic steam engine and organized the annual Glory Days of the Railroad festival that draws over 12,000 visitors to White River Junction. Three years ago, several professionals in the Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire developed a new vision for the Museum and it was re-incorporated as the New England Transportation Institute and Museum (NETIM). NETIM’s vision includes three components: a transportation museum, a transportation institute and a scenic excursion railroad.
With support from a Fairchild Foundation grant, the Museum was opened about a year ago in the historic White River Junction train station, between the new Vermont Welcome Center and the AMTRAK terminal. Under the leadership of Dr. Norman Miller, an internationally renowned anthropologist, the museum has rapidly built its collection, has attracted over several thousand visitors and has conducted scores of educational programs.
The Institute sponsors a series of seminars featuring nationally-known transportation planning professionals. The seminars are attended by many of the 70 transportation consultants in this region as well as other professionals from throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. One of the first seminars was given by Prof. Thomas Horan from Claremont, California, a national expert on the effects of transportation and telecommunications on rural travel and development. In the roundtable discussion following his seminar, the unique transportation issues facing rural areas were discussed and the Rural Transportation Learning Center was launched as a formal program to address some of those issues.