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U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao yesterday announced the creation of a new federal program designed to address disparities in rural transportation infrastructure.The Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) initiative will analyze the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) discretionary funding and financing opportunities to ensure nationwide outcomes for rural areas' transportation infrastructure, USDOT officials said in a press release."Rural America, which has a disproportionately high rate of fatalities and is historically neglected, needs to have its transportation needs addressed,” said Chao, who announced the initiative during her remarks at the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in St. Louis, Missouri.Chao also announced the formation of a ROUTES Council, which will be chaired by the under secretary of transportation. The council will oversee the ROUTES Infrastructure Management in three primary activities:• collecting stakeholder input on the safety and economic benefits of rural projects and the degree of assistance they require;• providing rural communities with USDOT discretionary grant application information; and• improving USDOT's data-driven approaches to better assess the needs and benefits of rural transportation infrastructure projects. ROUTES will be coordinated by the USDOT''s Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, Federal Highway Administration and Federal Aviation Administration.The initiative will build on the USDOT's Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) Loan Program’s Rural Project Initiative, which offers lower project-cost thresholds for loan eligibility, subsidized interest rates, and the coverage of fees to encourage use of the credit program for infrastructure projects in rural areas.Over the next year, USDOT officials will meet with rural transportation stakeholders to educate project sponsors about federal funding and financing opportunities, department officials said.