Friday, the House and Senate finally passed a new two-year federal surface transportation bill that will have a profoundly negative effect on funding for trails, bicycling and walking. It’s a shocking setback for active transportation, but we could have lost everything if it hadn’t been for the calls and emails you made over and over again. Thank you.
More than ever we must work hard to ensure a fair share for trails, bicycling and walking.
The new landscape
The bill creates a new funding category called “Transportation Alternatives” that can be used for trail development and infrastructure that supports active transportation. Funding for this category is about $700 million per year, which is 40 percent less than the $1.2 billion allocated in FY2011 for the Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails programs.
Also, whereas before each of these programs had dedicated funding, now only Recreational Trails retains that dedicated funding. Transportation Enhancements and and Safe Routes to School programs must now compete for the few dollars in the “Transportation Alternatives” category with programs such as environmental mitigation and boulevard construction.
Of the $700 million available for “Transportation Alternatives”:
- $85 million will be allocated to states for the Recreational Trails Program, unless a state chooses to opt out of this program. This amount of funding is unchanged from the previous transportation bill’s allocation as the money comes from the federal tax on fuel used for non-highway recreation.
- The remaining Transportation Alternatives dollars will be split between:
- MPOs (metropolitan planning organizations) to distribute through a local grant program.
- State departments of transportation to award through a statewide grant competition, unless a state opts out and transfers the funds to other highway uses.
Three things you can do right now
For 20 years, states were required to dedicate funds to bicycle and pedestrian programming, but now they have the option not to use these dollars for these programs. Our state lawmakers can play a key role in whether NYSDOT chooses to use its Transportation Alternative dollars to support trails, bicycling and walking. All state representatives are up for re-election in November. Make sure you know where candidates stand on funding for active transportation.
2. Urge NYSDOT to release existing dedicated Transportation Enhancement Program funds for a last round of grant funding.
NYSDOT still has up to $50 million available for Transportation Enhancements projects. This money has built up during the two years of SAFETEA-Lu extensions because every time the previous transportation bill was extended, 10% of the dollars coming to NYS were required to be allocated to the Transportation Enhancements Program. We cannot let this money disappear.
3. Get involved with your MPO or DOT regional bicycle and pedestrian advisory group.
MPOs will control half of the Transportation Alternatives funding. Attend a meeting of your MPO or DOT region bike-ped advisory committee and advocate for a strong focus on trails, bicycling and walking. If your MPO or DOT region doesn’t have an advisory group, advocate for starting one.
This transportation bill is not what we wanted, but if we all work together we can ensure that we maximize its support for trails, bicycling and walking. We hope you’ll join us in making this happen.