The University Transportation Center at Kansas State University is a research organization dedicated to bringing together transportation professionals, educators, and researchers to identify transportation problems—and to solving them.
The theme of this Center is The Sustainability and Safety of Rural Transportation Systems and Infrastructure. This theme is selected to complement the mission and direction of Kansas State University and to meet the needs of the Kansas Department of Transportation and the rural transportation community as a whole. Research at Kansas State University’s UTC will also fill a national need, specifically focusing on the sustainability and safety of rural transportation systems and infrastructure in the context of a declining and aging rural population.
The need for addressing rural transportation safety is great. Rural roadways, which account for more than half of the 8.2 million miles of roadways in the United States, have the highest rate of fatalities per vehicle mile traveled. While only about 40 percent of all vehicle miles are traveled on rural roads, about 60 percent of the traffic accident fatalities occur on rural roads. When adjusted for miles traveled, the fatality rate from traffic accidents on rural roads is nearly 2.5 times greater than the fatality rate from accidents on urban roads. Clearly, with longer response times due to their inherent rural nature, with more severe crashes and with a higher likelihood of rollovers, rural transportation safety remains a significant problem.
However, these safety issues should not be viewed in a vacuum and must be viewed in the context of a decreasing and aging rural population. By 2020, there will be as many retired people as there are children. At the same time, the rural areas in the Great Plains have continued to depopulate. These factors, when combined, will compound economic stresses, further limiting financial resources available for rural transportation infrastructure and safety.
Limited transportation resources — combined with an inherent desire for a safer transportation system — require an innovative approach to rural transportation issues. Primarily, this requires a focus on the economic and community sustainability for rural transportation; transportation resources will have to go further and do more than ever before.
Finally, the Center will focus on rural transportation issues related to terrorist threats and actions against hazardous materials carriers. Rural transportation systems not only support motorists and rail traffic, but also continue to carry the majority of the nation’s food supply. The safety and security of the nation’s food supply will also be a focus that is directly related to rural transportation infrastructure and safety.