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DOT pumping $1.2 billion into rural freight network

New funding forecast to cut transit times and save costs for long-haul trucking

Long-haul trucking in Appalachia to benefit from new funding. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The Biden administration on Tuesday released $246 million in FY22 funding toward completing a 3,000-mile rural freight and passenger network expected to reap time and cost savings for long-haul trucking.

The money is part of a $1.2 billion, five-year funding package authorized in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS), a network running through 13 states from New York to Mississippi. It is approximately 85% completed and is expected to be 100% complete and open to traffic by 2040.

The ADHS was initiated in 1965 because the Appalachian region was underserved by an interstate highway system that bypassed the rugged terrain in parts of the region. The 33 corridors that make up the system link to interstate highways and connect to regional and national markets.

“Ensuring rural regions are connected to the rest of America’s cities and towns is key to our nation’s economic success,” said Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack. “That’s why releasing the dedicated funding that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided for the Appalachian Development Highway System is a priority for the Biden-Harris administration.”

Freight‐carrying trucks account for just 4.3% of all traffic on the road systems of the 13 Appalachian states but represent approximately 14% of all vehicle hours of travel (VHT) time savings attributable to the ADHS routes, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), a federal agency that partners with states and counties in the region.

A 2017 report for the commission highlighted the importance of long-distance travel for both cars and trucks on the ADHS routes. It found that 56% of all freight truck trips affected by completing the ADHS have an origin or destination beyond Appalachia and that 20% of car and 31% of freight-truck VHT savings accrue to trip ends located outside of the 13 Appalachian states.

“This indicates that the ADHS plays a particularly important role serving longer‐distance goods movement and trade, connecting the region to destinations throughout the U.S.,” the study noted.

A table from the ARC report (below) shows the value of travel efficiency savings and market access productivity gains expected in 2025, 2035 and 2045 from vehicle miles traveled and VHT reductions.

Travel efficiency savings from future ADHS completion (millions of 2015 dollars). Source: ARC 2017 study.

Increasing levels of system completion combined with growth in the market for ADHS travel boosts the value of travel efficiency gains from $587 million by 2025 to almost $2.3 billion in 2045, with the largest gains represented by travel time and reliability savings.

“It is notable that the largest source of benefit for car travel is time savings, while logistics cost savings are as important as time savings for truck travel,” the report noted. 

In addition, by completing the ADHS, the combined economy of the 13 Appalachian states is estimated to be able to produce and sell $8.7 billion more in goods and services per year, over $4.2 billion more in gross regional product, pay workers nearly $2.7 billion more in wages, and add over 46,000 more jobs than if the ADHS is not completed, according to the ARC report.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.