Transportation Bill a Step Back [rails-to-trails]

The Federal Transportation Bill finally presented to Congress today takes a step back from key reforms of recent decades, says Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Vice President of Policy and Trail Development Kevin Mills.

"It shrinks from the challenge of meeting America's need for forward-looking 21st century policy that provides balanced transportation choices and improves public health and safety, the quality of our environment and the livability of our communities," Mills says.

"From a broad transportation reform perspective, there are many reasons for concern, including misguided transportation priorities and gutting of provisions that ensure public input and consideration of the environment in transportation decisions."

"The core programs that support trails, bicycling and walking are seriously compromised, but not undone," he says.

Much as in the Senate bill, the most significant changes include:
  • Merging the three core trail and active transportation programs - Transportation Enhancements (TE), Safe Routes to School (SRTS) and Recreational Trails  -and forcing TE and SRTS to compete for severely limited dollars against expensive new eligibilities, including some road projects;
  • Reducing the initial amount of funds available to these programs by 25-30 percent, and greatly increasing the ability of states to transfer funds away from these core programs which could multiply the loss; and
  • On the positive side, the bill will provide for greater local access to the funds through sub-allocation for larger communities (regions of 200,000+) and focusing of state administered funds on local needs (except where states opt out altogether).
In addition, a new Complete Streets policy that was in the Senate bill to require routine accommodation of all roadway users was not included in the final bill.

"Some in Congress sought to undermine these vital trail and active transportation programs in more fundamental ways than the bill we have now," Mills says. "It is a credit to RTC's supporters and organizational allies that these more reactionary views did not carry the day. There are scores of people across the country working hard for a better transportation system for America - as volunteers, as advocates, as planners - people who are passionate about trails and know that active transportation is good for their communities. Because trails, bicycling and walking are critical to communities of all sizes and types, they will remain a vibrant part of America's transportation future."

Final passage of the bill is expected by Saturday.