The Small Urban and Rural Transit Center (SURTC) will be a partner in a new Small Urban and Rural Livability Center being established with a two-year $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The grant was awarded as part of the University Transportation Centers (UTC) program.
The Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University will lead the effort to conduct research, education, and outreach activities on issues such as expanding public transportation options; creating safe routes for bicyclists and pedestrians; improving access to key regional transportation hubs and destinations; and integrating all available modes of transportation. SURTC brings to the effort expertise in transit, mobility’s impact on access to vital services in rural communities and other rural livability factors. The center will receive $1.1 million over two years for its involvement in the project.
SURTC was created in 2001 to assist small urban and rural transit systems and other transit entities by conducting research and offering outreach and training. In recognition of the role that mobility plays in the livability of rural communities, the center has increased its emphasis on this area of research.
“When people think about livable communities, one of their top priorities is being able to get where they need to go without always having to use their car,” said Steve Albert, director of the Western Transportation Institute. “Most of the livability initiatives up to now have focused on urban areas, so we are very excited and honored to take the lead on these issues for millions of Americans who live in small cities and rural areas.”
The U.S. DOT Research and Innovative Technology Administration received more than 140 applications for UTC awards from universities and research consortiums across the country, and selected only 35 centers. “Only two Centers were chosen to focus on livability issues, so we are very proud to represent interests and needs of rural residents,” said Western Transportation Institute program manager David Kack, who will serve as the center’s director.
“We look forward to our partnership with the Western Transportation Institute and continuing our work in regards to livability in rural and small urban areas,” said Jill Hough, SURTC director. Hough will serve as the deputy director of the new center.
“Many rural areas are seeing a dramatic increase in the elderly population. Our research shows that elderly individuals prefer to stay in their homes for as long as possible, and it’s cost effective for them to do so,” Hough notes. “At the same time, some rural communities are seeing rapid population growth and economic development. Mobility plays a critical role in maintaining and enhancing the livability of communities in both cases,” she said.
“The grant funding and our collaboration with the Western Transportation Institute will help us address key issues related to livability in rural areas,” Hough said. “It’s likely our work will be useful in addressing those issues in urban and suburban areas as well.”