Nearly 100 people joined federal, state and county officials at a transportation policy forum held in Robstown Friday to address needs in rural areas of the Coastal Bend.
The meeting was held to reveal an updated version of the Transportation Coordination Network of the Coastal Bend's regional plan for 2011, which aims to identify what transportation infrastructure is available to the public and what needs still have to be addressed.
The TCN is aiming to have a working plan completed by August 2011, said Inter-County Mobility Director Sara Salvide.
Salvide said rural areas have long had a need for better public transportation options, but a lack of funding makes addressing the issue problematic. Most of the state's funding for transportation, she added, tends to go to larger, urban cities rather than being awarded to rural areas.
"The rural areas only get 3 percent of all of the public funding," she said. "If you're a state, like Texas, which is blessed with all this expanse of land that is considered rural, then you also know with that blessing comes the challenge of trying to meet all of the needs of our residents in the rural areas."
The TCN conducted an online survey via its Web site, www.tcncb.org, in July to gauge concerns about existing transportation services, such as the cost of transportation to the rider and a lack of accessible transportation for people with disabilities.
With 120 respondents, the survey listed public transportation services not being available at the times needed as the primary concern.
Martin Ornelas, chairman of the TCN and director of the Coastal Bend Rural Health Partnership, said having immediate and proper access to public transportation is a right every citizen should be afforded.
But only through cooperation between the existing transportation entities, can such as the Regional Transportation Authority and the Rural Health Partnership, that such an improvement be made, he added.
"If you can't get the transportation you need to go to your local pharmacy to pick up your medication…or if you can't get to your job, then this report just looks really nice and it hasn't made a difference," he said.
TCN officials hope the plan will help lead to more state funding from the Texas Department of Transportation, while also easing the burden to rural residents.
District 27 U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, who served as the event's keynote speaker, said the report and the cooperation shown thus far was a step in the right direction to ultimately fixing the problem.
"Each and every one of you play a key role…in the goals you are trying to accomplish," he said.