WSU’s Transportation Research Group Chosen by USDA to do National Study

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University has signed a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help the USDA and the U.S. Department of Transportation develop a comprehensive study of rural transportation issues.

The study will be done with the USDA’s Transportation Services Division.

“They felt we had the skills and background and would commit to doing it well,” said Ken Casavant, a WSU transportation economist and leader of the Transportation Research Group in the School of Economic Sciences. “Our past research history shows we are familiar with many of the issues.”

WSU is the only university chosen to be involved in the project.

The study, which was authorized in the recent 2008 Farm Bill, will examine issues related to the movement of agricultural products, domestically produced renewable fuels, domestically produced resources for the production of electricity for rural areas and economic development in those areas.

“We don’t have adequate rail service to handle the growing needs of the rural sector,” Casavant said, “and we don’t know if the business plans of the railroads will cause them to provide the kinds of capacity agriculture needs. We simply have to have access to international markets and consumers.

“Rising diesel prices have put a lot of independent truckers in dire straits, and some trucking firms have gone out of business. We can’t get trucks when we want them seasonally, and rising fuel costs contribute to higher transportation costs and therefore to higher prices paid by consumers.”

Barge movement will be studied as well. “We’ve been fortunate up to now in the Pacific Northwest,” Casavant said, “but silt build up and pressures from environmental concerns have put the Snake and Columbia barge system under pressure. In the Midwest, the locks on the Mississippi are outmoded, so barge operators have to break down tows, making barge movement less efficient.”

WSU economists will collect existing data on its assigned tasks and consolidate the information into a comprehensive report that Casavant and his team of researchers at WSU will present in final form next spring.

“We will integrate the national databases and opinions from commodity groups, from researchers, from government and from other agencies, all in one report focusing on rural transportation issues,” he said. “We won’t make any recommendations in a political sense but will base our findings on economic analysis.”

Members of the Transportation Research Group working on the project include Casavant; Eric Jessup, assistant research professor; Vicki McCracken, professor; Jia Yan, assistant professor; as well as several graduate students.