K-State civil engineering department awarded federal funding for transportation center


MANHATTAN, KAN. -- Loss of population and aging of the population in rural areas in Kansas is presenting new challenges in preserving the state's rural transportation infrastructure. But recently awarded federal funding for the establishment of a National Research Center for Rural Transportation Infrastructure and Safety at Kansas State University will begin to target those issues in 2005.

As part of the U.S. Department of Transportation Planning, Research and Development Budget, the department of civil engineering at K-State will receive $500,000 to address the cost-effective preservation of rural transportation infrastructure, safe operation of that infrastructure for an aging population and safe operation of rural infrastructure for movement of agricultural products with respect to terrorist threat or disease outbreak.

U.S. Congressman Jim Ryun (R-KS), regarding his work on this measure, said, "I am pleased to secure this funding for K-State and the people of Kansas. Rural areas face unique transportation challenges. This expenditure will help provide the necessary research and development needed to ensure that thousands of rural Kansans will have safe and efficient roads."

While acknowledging there is work going on around the country in other facets of rural transportation, Mustaque Hossain, K-State civil engineering professor and director of the new center, said, "No one is looking at quality of life as it relates to preserving this infrastructure."

The largest portion of transportation funding for local roads in rural areas comes from property tax and special assessments. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 55 percent of the counties in Kansas lost population in the 1990s. Current annual federal funding for rural highways and bridges in Kansas is less than $1,100 per mile, with the average annual maintenance cost of unsurfaced road in Kansas approximately $5,000 per mile.

"We must develop cost-effective maintenance of these low-volume roads due to this eroding tax base, yet with no compromise on safety," Hossain said. By 2010 Kansas is projected to have a 40 percent increase in the number of persons aged 65-74, with most of these driving. Studies showed that 10.2 percent of drivers in Kansas in 2000, aged 61 to over 70, were involved in traffic accidents that did not involve alcohol-impaired drivers.

"Studies have shown fatalities on rural roads are almost double that of urban roads, and in Kansas that ratio was 5 to 1 in 2000," Hossain said. "Livestock feedlots and grain elevators need secure transportation, and there are also mounting concerns over the vulnerability and safety of the transport of our crops and livestock due to potential terrorist actions."

Total capacity for Kansas feedlots is about six million head of cattle, with three million of that number brought in from other states and Mexico. Kansas ranks first in the nation in wheat and sorghum production.

"Unfortunately," Hossain said, "there is currently no contingency plan for transportation management in the event of a terrorist attack or disease outbreak, or no plan to secure the uninterrupted transportation of grains.

"In this aspect, the transportation center will work closely with the recently established National Agricultural Biosecurity Center at K- State, and begin to take on these issues as well."

"Establishment of this national research center places K-State and the College of Engineering at the forefront of not only national security, but quality of life and safety for Kansans," said Terry King, dean of the College of Engineering. "I certainly commend Professor Hossain for his leadership in this area, as well as thank Congressman Ryun for helping K-State engineering address the critical transportation needs of Kansas. Good transportation is essential for the economy and well being of all Kansans."

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