Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Highways are critical for agriculture shipping, need more money and planning for upkeep, says USDA report

High-Volume Domestic Agriculture Highways, as identified by the report. Click the image to enlarge it.

A recent report from the Agriculture Department (with input from the Transportation Department) outlines 10 challenges and opportunities for stakeholders to maintain and improve U.S. highways and interstates that are critical to agricultural shipping.

The U.S. agriculture sector relies heavily on America's highway and interstate system; almost all agricultural freight trips include at least one highway leg. Because highway shipping is so cheap, transportation costs make up only 3% to 4% of overall U.S. agriculture costs. That helps the U.S. remain competitive on the global market with other nations that pay workers less and have lower production costs, the report says.

However, that edge is under threat. Other countries (like Brazil) are reducing their transportation costs, and U.S. freight volume is projected to increase nearly 25% over the next 20 years, according to the report. Moreover, the trucks that ship U.S. agricultural products are increasingly heavy, causing more wear and tear on roads.

Agriculture shipping is largely concentrated on a small number of roads, the report notes: 80% of domestic agricultural highway freight volume moves on 17% of the nation's highway mileage, dubbed High-Volume Domestic Agriculture Highways. Stakeholders must invest more in keeping these HVDAHs well-maintained, the report recommends. County and local governments must be consulted to ensure optimal planning. 

The rural transportation system has been crumbling in recent years as truck loads have increased, but many state and county governments have had a difficult time convincing citizens to support tax increases to pay for maintenance. A recent report from a non-profit supported by road-construction companies said rural roads face a $211 billion backlog in repairs. Rural local governments may be able to more easily access grant money for infrastructure projects through an online toolkit hosted by the Transportation Department.

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