The traffic fatality rate on rural roads is twice that of urban roads and is largely due to the poor condition of those roads, which have been historically neglected.

That’s the message U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao delivered to transportation stakeholders from across the country who were in St. Louis this week for the annual American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials meeting.

Chao announced a new program to address the disparities in transportation infrastructure in rural America with an aim to lowering fatalities.

The program, called the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success initiative, known as R.O.U.T.E.S, will direct federal resources toward improving rural roads.

Chao cited some sobering transportation safety statistics in making the case for more federal grants for rural roads. Nineteen percent of Americans live in rural areas yet 72 percent of large truck occupant fatalities, 67 percent of pickup occupant fatalities and 58 percent of SUV occupant fatalities occur in rural areas.

That isn’t surprising to first responders in Franklin County who deal with traffic fatalities on a regular basis. They responded to another one Sunday on Highway HH in rural Franklin County where a Catawissa man lost his life when the truck he was driving left the road, struck a ditch and overturned.

Rural roads often have higher speed limits and are often lined with trees or telephone poles. Many need improvements or repairs. The combination can prove lethal.

The Franklin County Commission lowered the speed limits on more than 50 county roads this past week as part of a long-term study of county roads and their conditions. A story in the Wednesday Missourian lists the roads where the speed limit was adjusted. The Commission raised the speed on some roads in August.

We applaud Chao for focusing federal resources on improving rural roads in an effort to reduce traffic fatalities. We need to do better in addressing rural America’s transportation infrastructure deficiencies. It’s long overdue. The secretary recognizes this and we appreciate her commitment.

We hope this new initiative makes a difference in Missouri where for the third year in a row, more than 900 people were killed in traffic crashes, according to MoDOT — many on rural roads. That is too many.

We also hope some of those funds come to Franklin County where there are plenty of dangerous roads that could use improvement.