Statement of Stephen Albert
Director, Western Transportation Institute
Montana State University
ISTEA Reauthorization
March 22, 1997

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about our national rural transportation challenges. I would also like to take a moment to share how the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University-Bozeman, is meeting those challenges as it relates to Intelligent Transportation Systems. And, finally, I would like to make highlight on ISTEA reauthorization improvements that WTI support.

Under ISTEA, the US DOT allocated over $660 million for ITS research development and deployment. Less than 1 percent of those funds were made available for rural ITS, and that is clearly not adequate. Rural America is currently challenged from six perspectives. Number one is safety, as rural America has 80 percent of our Nation's road miles but 58 percent of the traffic related fatalities. Furthermore, there is a 2 to 1 greater emergency response time when compared to the urban setting. Also, 78 percent of rural travelers are tourists who are unfamiliar with the roads and travel over 150 miles per trip;

Two, efficiency as commercial vehicles move the majority of goods and services and the majority of these miles are through vast rural settings;

Three, economic productivity as tourism areas are dependent on visitor experiences, information and access;

Four, mobility and convenience since 66 of our communities have little or no transit even though they have older, more transit-dependent populations;

Five, sustainability and funding as rural communities have limited resources and more natural disasters; and

Six, the greying of America. As our Nation's population is getting older, driving capabilities diminish and they need better traveler information to feel safe and secure.

While our rural communities are not the economic engines of the United States as their urban counterparts, they provide the connectivity to move people and goods and services between urban centers. Therefore, these parts of the highway systems in rural areas must continue to be maintained and improved. As such, the issues and applications of ITS are not congestion mitigation like in urban cities, but safety, efficiency, economic factors, and information for travelers, fleets, and infrastructure.

The American West offers a unique opportunity for research, demonstration, and deployment of Advanced Rural Transportation Systems that cannot be surpassed in the United States. Unlike other areas of the United States that emphasize congestion relief, ITS applications for the Rocky Mountain Region and the Pacific Northwest are predominantly rural outside of a handful of urban centers and thus face different issues and objectives.

WTI was established in 1994 by the Montana and California Departments of Transportation in cooperation with MSU-Bozeman as a national and international center for rural ITS transportation research and education. Since the inception of WTI, we have accomplished much in raising the awareness of rural challenges including the following activities: Providing stakeholder outreach to over 20 states on rural ITS benefits; developing a rural ITS strategic plan in California and Montana; providing leadership for rural ITS research through the Intelligent Transportation Society of America Rural Committees; providing ISTEA testimonial to Secretary Pena; providing guidance and serving on US DOT Rural Action Teams to develop an ITS strategic plan; evaluating rural highway system applications; evaluating commercial vehicle operations and automatic border crossings; and providing over 25 presentations and publications on rural issues and applications; and, finally, hosting the 1997 International and National Rural ITS Conference in Montana in cooperation with Montana Department of Transportation.

The Western Transportation Institute has been in the forefront of Advanced Rural Transportation issues and would like to make the following ISTEA reauthorization recommendations in order to meet rural needs: provide funding that will allow development and formation of a rural constituency, or partners; provide for early deployment of planning funds for rural settings, not just major urban areas; research realistic ITS benefits based on deployment experience, not theory; and provide for prioritized deployment based on needs; and, finally, reduce the local match funding requirements.

In the last few years WTI has recognized that one critical element missing from rural ITS planning and deployment. The missing element is the designation of a rural corridor that would serve as a national and international testbed. Of the four National Priority ITS Corridors designated by U.S. DOT, not one included two-lane rural highways. States with large urban transportation centers have made significant progress in establishing and deploying ITS programs. Most rural states have not felt the expediency to develop ITS programs. Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, however, do realize that ITS has applications to their transportation problems and have initiated an action to explore ITS in rural settings. With the assistance of Senator Baucus and Senator Burns, a limited testbed for rural ITS applications has been created and is called the Greater Yellowstone Rural ITS Priority Corridor. It is the first two-lane rural ITS corridor project. The project has taken initial steps to make rural travel more safe, dependable and convenient. What is needed now is full-scale deployment and evaluation.

In summary, when you compare urban versus rural issues, the rural environment has fewer congestion and mobility issues but greater number of fatalities, more road miles, longer trip lengths, dramatic weather changes, more aged population, and a greater need for economic viability. Unfortunately, these issues have not received adequate attention or appropriate funding. There are 64 persons killed every day on rural roads. With additional funding, ITS can undoubtedly help to reduce that number.

I would like to emphasize that WTI has been working with regional partners, such as INEEL on development of a vision for the Greater Yellowstone area and the Yellowstone National Park, as well as working with partners such as Mr. Kyte here in developing what we would propose as ISTEA reauthorization language, and those documents are available today.

And I am also aware that Senator Baucus, Kempthorne and Thomas intend to introduce STARS 2000 as has been discussed in these presentations, and I highly support that.