Sarah Kline, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center focused on infrastructure, said policymakers should be looking at helping rural regions in a more holistic way.
She co-authored a report released last month that found 15 percent of major rural roads are in poor condition and one-fifth of rural bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Kline, who was formerly director of policy at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said the federal government should be providing direct funding to rural areas, as the Trump administration is proposing. But she says the administration should leverage private investment where it can and provide technical support to communities that pursue partnership deals.
In her report, she recommends the federal government create a rural partnerships office that works with communities to help them identify, prepare, and negotiate public-partnership deals, which are often technical.
“If you are developing an infrastructure package and you want to involve the private sector, you need a little bit of special focus on rural areas to make sure they can participate,” Kline told the Washington Examiner. “With that said, it can be quite difficult for rural communities to even begin the process. Rural areas struggle with a lack of staff capacity and experience. Putting together a public-private partnership requires tech expertise, solid negotiation skills, and knowing how to allocate costs among the different parties.”
Kline points to a bridge replacement project in Pennsylvania as the type of project the federal government can help facilitate.