By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Biden administration will announce Wednesday it is awarding $800 million to redesign roads, improve sidewalks and make other upgrades to address the sharp increase in U.S. traffic deaths.
Traffic deaths jumped 10.5% to 42,915 in 2021, the highest number killed on American roads since 2005. After declining for decades, traffic deaths jumped sharply after COVID-19 lockdowns expired in 2020 and more drivers engaged in unsafe behavior.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Reuters the United States must reach "a decision as a country that we need to treat this seriously and this isn't just routine.... We face a national emergency on our roadways, and it demands urgent action."
Most of the 510 awards for regional, local, and tribal initiatives are for planning grants funded by a $5 billion, five-year program under the November 2021 infrastructure law.
USDOT is also awarding 37 implementing grants funding low-cost measures like new sidewalks, crosswalks, protected bike lanes, roundabouts, speed bumps, better lighting, and speed-management strategies to slow cars in high-pedestrian traffic areas.
Other projects include mid-block crosswalks, rumble strips, narrower lanes and backplates with reflective borders to improve traffic signal visibility.
USDOT has also launched a data visualization tool showing where traffic crashes occur.
"We literally as we were making the decisions had a map pulled up -- you could see the hot spots," Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg said preliminary data indicates 2022 traffic deaths "seem to have leveled off" near 2021 levels. "We've got to change the plus sign to a minus sign," he said.
The number of pedestrians killed jumped 13% in 2021 to 7,342, the most since 1981. The number of cyclists killed rose 5% to 985, the most since at least 1980. Both categories are still rising.
The awards include $10.4 million for rural Fayette County, Iowa to add rumble strips along 50 miles; Missoula, Montana will get $9 million for new bike lanes, sidewalks and bus stops.
Boston is receiving $9 million for upgrades at nine key intersections, while Seattle was awarded $25 million to build four miles of protected bike lanes, 1.5 miles of new sidewalks and other improvements.
Upgrading America's roads will not be cheap. The United States has 4 million miles of roads and nearly 300 million vehicles that travel more than 3 trillion miles annually.
Last year, a top lawmaker said highway planners for years only emphasized "fast throughput for cars and trucks."
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Kim Coghill)