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Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap (2021)

Chapter: Chapter 2 Research Approach

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 Research Approach." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26343.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 Research Approach." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26343.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 Research Approach." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26343.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 Research Approach." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26343.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 Research Approach." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26343.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 Research Approach." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26343.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 Research Approach." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26343.
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Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap 5 C H A P T E R 2 Research Approach Comprehensive Approach The main goal for this project was to develop a comprehensive, rural research Roadmap that is inclusive of a diverse range of rural transportation stakeholders, community types, and topics. Thus, the intent was to develop a comprehensive, balanced Roadmap that identifies and prioritizes rural research needs related to roadway infrastructure, transit, aviation, freight, and non-motorized facilities—and extends to the regional, county, and municipal levels. Recognizing that there are constraints on research funding, it is anticipated that the Roadmap will help guide, support, and optimize the benefits of future rural transportation research. To accomplish this, it was extremely important to develop a multi-disciplinary Research Team, for the process to be stakeholder driven, to represent the needs of all rural community types, and to include broad categories representative of rural transportation. A guiding principle of the Roadmap was to distinguish between rural transportation needs and rural transportation research needs. For example, some perceived research gaps stem from insufficient dissemination of research that is already available. While the Roadmap touches on research that might document the outcomes of policy decisions, it is primarily intended to address technical (rather than policy) issues. Multi-disciplinary Research Team WTI and InTrans are relatively large organizations. To assure that the Roadmap reflects the knowledge of in-house subject matter experts to the fullest extent possible, the researchers assembled a panel of five senior technical experts within WTI and InTrans to provide feedback on all tasks (herein referred to as the Senior Technical Expert Panel). This ongoing process helped ensure that a broad range of rural transportation research (and challenges) was considered throughout the entire project. To further diversify the knowledge base, the project was also presented to additional WTI and InTrans staff the week prior to the interim report deadline to gather input from additional specialists, including national leaders on safety culture, international consultants on road ecology, and winter maintenance specialists. Stakeholder Driven Great care was taken to ensure that this project would be stakeholder driven to reflect the issues of greatest concern to rural transportation practitioners. The project has a very actively engaged, multi-disciplinary Project Panel (herein referred to as the NCHRP 20-122 Project Panel). Approximately one-third of the NCHRP 20-122 Project Panel members are employed by state departments of transportation, one-third by public transit agencies, and one-third are in other related occupations. In addition, four workshops and a webinar were conducted to gather research needs from broader groups.

Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap 6 Community Types An important challenge for the Roadmap was acknowledging the diverse nature of American rural communities, while engaging a manageable number of stakeholders from communities that ware representative of the nation as a whole. To accomplish this, the Research Team carefully considered a broad range of rural characteristics and identified six overlapping, qualitative community types as shown in Figure 4. Figure 4: Six Rural Community Types Somewhat stereotypical profiles of each category were created to guide the development of outreach efforts and foster discussion among Roadmap stakeholders. These profiles are sketched below. • Resource Oriented. These communities typically earn their living from the land or what lies below: their economies are based on agriculture, forestry, fishery, mining, oil/gas extraction, and similar enterprises. As a result, outbound freight transportation costs can strongly influence their economic competitiveness. Many of these communities experience frequent boom/bust cycles related to fluctuations in commodity prices and geopolitical events. Resource-oriented communities tend to have good highway connections, but the availability and cost of other modes are often spotty. Many have aging populations, putting strain on transit/paratransit services and creating demand for ADA-compliant pedestrian infrastructure. Additionally, many of these communities are located in areas that are sensitive to infrastructure damage from natural disasters such as flooding. • Exurban. Exurban communities are located beyond the boundaries of a metropolitan area, but often have strong economic links to it. In many cases there is extensive commuting to urban jobs. In recent years many exurban communities sought to diversify their economic base by establishing industrial/business parks aimed at capturing some of the growth associated with nearby urban areas. During prosperous periods these industries sometimes require more labor (or different skills) than is available locally, resulting in increased reverse-commuting. Exurban communities often have growing populations, and their dependency on transportation can lead to rising expectations, especially among

Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap 7 newer residents. Commuters and industry representatives are often enthusiastic supporters of transportation improvements, but local retailers may be reticent about improving connections to the urban area due to the potential for increased competition from suburban stores. Tensions within the business community and between newer and older residents can combine with concerns about limited revenue, fears about a loss of local identity (being subsumed into the urban area), and the social and environmental effects of growth. As a result, debates about investments in roads, transit, commuter rail, airports, and other facilities can become quite contentious in these communities. • Tourism Based. Communities with economies based on tourism take many forms: gateway towns for state and national parks and forests; lakeside and coastal vacation communities, themed resorts such as Branson, MO, Deadwood, SD, and Wisconsin Dells, WI; and ski destinations such as Breckinridge, CO and Stowe, VT. High seasonal traffic demand is often hard to manage, and many of these communities are located in areas with unique landforms or sensitive environments that preclude expansion of streets and highways. • Frontier and Remote. Federal regulations define four levels of “Frontier and Remote” communities based on various combinations of population density and distance to more populous areas. With small populations and long distances to urban centers, residents of these communities typically experience long travel times to medical centers and commercial airports. As a result of their remoteness, businesses and residents generally face high costs to ship goods in and out. Access to specialized goods and services is often quite limited, especially for hard-to-ship items that cannot be purchased online. Mode choice is often very limited, and some communities can be reached only via a single highway. Many of these communities are located in areas with great scenic beauty, but tourism development can be quite difficult due to remoteness. • Beyond the Lower 48. This category represents a very diverse group of communities that share an important locational characteristic: they are not situated within the 48 contiguous United States. Thus, this category includes all rural communities in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Most of these communities are quite remote. Many are highly dependent on aviation and maritime transportation, and some are inaccessible during periods of unfavorable weather. • Tribal Lands and Alaska Native Villages. As of 2018, there were 573 federally recognized Indian Nations (variously called tribes, nations, bands, pueblos, communities and native villages) in the United States. Approximately 229 of these ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse nations are located in Alaska; the other federally recognized tribes are located in 35 states. In addition to the federally recognized tribes, there are a number of tribes throughout the U.S. that are recognized by their respective state governments. Members of these communities inhabit climates ranging from the Alaskan tundra to the Southwestern desert. Some are located within comfortable commuting distance of major cities, while others are in extremely remote locales. The communities also vary greatly in economic strength: some have considerable income from petroleum and gas extraction on their lands, while others continue to practice the subsistence agriculture and fishery of their ancestors. Consequently, the transportation issues faced by these communities are extraordinarily diverse. Rural Transportation Themes or Categories Another challenge for the Roadmap was the broadness of rural transportation. Rural transportation is not just access, mobility, infrastructure, and safety; it also intertwines with many occupations (public health, law enforcement, education, freight, etc.), crosses many diverse modes (bicycle, pedestrian, aviation, bus, maritime, rail, roadway, etc.), and plays a part in lifestyle choices, economic development, and tourism. For the purpose of defining the boundaries of rural transportation for the Roadmap, the Research Team created a list of rural transportation themes or categories that the critical research needs could be sorted into. This list varied slightly throughout the project, but the final list is shown in Figure 5.

Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap 8 Active Transportation Rural Public & School Transportation Aviation Rural Transportation Safety Cross-cutting Funding, Planning, & Policy Transportation Access & Mobility Driver Education & Licensing Technology Including Connected and Automated Vehicles Economic Development & Tourism Transportation Rural Products to Market Intersection of Health & Transportation Weather, Climate, Resilience & Environment Law Enforcement, Crimes & Drugs Workforce Development Roadway Infrastructure & Balancing Capacity with Demand Figure 5: Fifteen Rural Transportation Themes Brief descriptions for each of the fifteen themes include: 1. Active Transportation. In rural communities, providing safe and easily accessible active transportation infrastructure (sidewalks, bike lanes, pedestrian crossings) can improve access, improve public health, and spur economic development. 2. Aviation. The availability of general aviation airports and scheduled passenger services can be crucial to the economic and social wellbeing of rural areas. 3. Cross-cutting Funding, Planning, & Policy. Rural areas have unique funding, economic and policy issues. This theme covers the issues that cross-cut modes, disciplines, and themes. Funding, economic and policy issues that are specific to themes are included in those themes. 4. Driver Education & Licensing. While younger and older driver education and licensing is not a rural- specific topic, this theme covers the unique research needs for these age groups in rural areas 5. Economic Development & Tourism. Tourism (e.g., ski areas, small beach towns, gateway communities, resort/themed areas, public lands) is a significant economic attractor in many rural areas. 6. Intersection of Health and Transportation. Rural residents face significant health disparities when compared to urban residents. Two policies often considered for improving public health in rural communities involve improving access to health care and increasing physical activity levels. 7. Law Enforcement, Crime and Drugs. Rural communities often have only a small number of law enforcement officers to cover a large geographical area. Due to the sparse enforcement, violations of traffic laws, vandalism of transportation infrastructure, and crimes such as human trafficking and the sale of illicit drugs can go undetected for long periods of time. 8. Roadway Infrastructure and Balancing Capacity with Demand. Economic and population growth in the United States is uneven, with many rural areas losing jobs and population, while most cities, suburbs, and exurban areas have been experiencing growth. As a result, some rural communities find themselves with more infrastructure than they can afford to maintain, while others struggle to keep up with growth. 9. Rural Public & School Transportation. Rural public and school transportation include transit, paratransit, school transportation, passenger rail, and shared-use mobility. This category includes systems located on public lands.

Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap 9 10. Rural Transportation Safety. Decreasing roadway fatalities in rural areas is necessary to attain zero fatalities nationwide. 11. Transportation Access and Mobility. Improving access and mobility in rural communities has social, cultural, and economic benefits, but meeting the needs of residents in rural areas can be challenging due to terrain, remoteness, limited funding, and demographic issues. 12. Technology Including Connected and Automated Vehicles. While rural areas anticipate benefits from deployments of automated vehicles (AV) (self-driving under certain circumstances) and connected vehicles (CV) (manual and autonomous vehicles equipped with communications technologies aimed at improving safety and efficiency), the unique challenges in rural areas could be a barrier to the deployments. 13. Transporting Rural Products to Market. Freight transportation plays a key role in rural economies. Outbound freight services allow rural industries and agricultural producers to sell their products in national and international markets, while inbound freight is used to obtain supplies, raw materials, and production equipment. 14. Weather, Climate, Resilience and Environment. Rural transportation is vulnerable to the impacts of changing weather patterns. When these situations occur, agencies incur substantial unplanned costs to repair damaged infrastructure. 15. Workforce Development. Transportation agencies across the United States are facing issues with recruiting and retaining skilled employees, which may disproportionately impact rural areas. More detailed information on these fifteen rural transportation themes and how they were incorporated into the Roadmap is provided in the next two chapters. Key Project Activities To meet the accelerated timeline established by the NCHRP 20-122 Project Panel for Phase I, the work done in this Phase was completed as a fast-tracked process (completed within 8 weeks of the notice to proceed). Previous NCHRP research Roadmaps have typically made use of a sequential process of stakeholder outreach, review and analysis of existing research, consultation with subject matter experts, organization of issues into a Roadmap, and development of detailed research needs statements. For Phase I of this Roadmap, however, these tasks were completed in parallel to the maximum extent possible. In Phase II, additional work was completed in outreach, review and analysis of existing research, consultation with subject matter experts, organization of issues into a Roadmap, and development of detailed research needs statements. Figure 6 shows the differences in Phases (shown in blue), Tasks (shown in grey), and Activities (shown in purple).

Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap 10 Figure 6. Roadmap Phases, Tasks, and Activities Project Phases and Tasks This project was conducted in two phases. In Phase I, the Roadmap developed early action items that addressed overarching research needs, had a degree of urgency, and were broadly relevant to the rural transportation system. These items were made available to the NCHRP 20-122 Project Panel for potential submission to the AASHTO R&I Committee in Fall 2018. Phase I consisted of six tasks: 1. Project Management. This task continued throughout the entire project to promote effective communications and accountability between the NCHRP 20-122 Project Panel and the Research Team. 2. Environmental Scan. This task included an environmental scan of rural transportation issues in the United States and relevant countries to determine the many challenges related directly or indirectly to transportation. The intent was to gather and document as many rural transportation issues as possible. 3. Literature Review & Gap Analysis. This task identified research that has already been conducted on the topics identified in the environmental scan. A gap analysis determined the gaps in current rural transportation research (i.e., what topics have not yet been researched). 4. Colorado Workshop. This task included hosting a 1-day workshop in conjunction with the National Rural Intercity Bus Conference in September 2018 in Colorado. The goals of the workshop were to identify critical rural transportation issues and needs, provide direction on the draft recommended Research Roadmap, and identify problem statements suitable for submission to NCHRP and other research programs.

Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap 11 5. Interim Report. The interim report summarized the work completed in Phase I. 6. AASHTO Presentation. This presentation was provided to the AASHTO R&I Committee in October 2018 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In Phase II, the Roadmap identified longer-term research needs and organized them into a portfolio of critical needs by rural transportation theme. The items included both overarching and specialized needs. Phase II was comprised of four tasks including: 1. Georgia Workshop2. This workshop was held as a session at the second National Summit for Rural Road Safety in Savannah, Georgia in December 2018. The goal of this workshop was similar to the Colorado workshop. 2. TRB Workshops. Two workshops were held at TRB in January 2019. The first was held with the TRB Executive Committee to gather additional policy needs. The second was held for general TRB attendees. The focus of this workshop was to build awareness of the previous deliverables, seek the endorsement of TRB attendees on the priorities already gathered, and capture the research needs from a different group of stakeholders. This new group of stakeholders provided the perspective of state and federal DOT employees and members of the research community. 3. Webinar2. A webinar was conducted in March 2019 to gather additional research needs from groups that had not yet provided input. It was also used as an additional prioritization exercise. 4. Final Report and Updated Presentation. The final report task summarized the work completed in both Phases I and II. The presentation provided at the end of Phase I will be updated to include the information identified in Phase II. More details on the above activities can be found in Chapter 3. 2 Note that although this report shows ten tasks, the original scope of work only identified eight. In the original scope of work, the Georgia Workshop was included as a “bonus” to the project. Due to no budget being associated with it, there was no task number assigned in the scope of work. In addition, the webinar task was not in the original workplan and was added after the project started.

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Although only 19% of the population lives in rural areas, more than 70% of the U.S.’s four million miles of roadways are in rural areas. The rural transportation system also includes numerous airports; railways; inland and coastal waterways; rural and intercity buses; and bicycle, pedestrian, and multi-use paths and trails. In addition, approximately 47% of the nation’s motor vehicle fatalities occur in rural areas.

The TRB National Cooperative Highway Research Program's pre-publication draft of NCHRP Research Report 988: Rural Transportation Issues: Research Roadmap is designed to assist state departments of transportation and other public agencies and help inform policy–driven investment decisions.

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