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Tracking down State funding for trails and bike/ped facilities

From the Fall 2005 issue of Trail Tracks, the magazine of American Trails.

By Christopher Douwes

"If you have a trail project proposal, first contact your State to find out the program requirements and criteria for project selection."

New Federal surface transportation authorization legislation was enacted on August 10, 2005: the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users: SAFETEA-LU. See the FHWA website at for more information, including summaries, program fact sheets, and funding tables. In another article, I report on some specific provisions as they may relate to trails. Below are some considerations for developing a project.

How to apply for funds

Depending on what kind of project you envision, contact your State Trail Administrator, State Transportation Enhancement Program Manager , or State Scenic Byway Coordinator. Each State has its own project solicitation and selection process. For projects on Federal lands, contact your local Federal Land Management agency. Federal land management agencies may apply for RTP, TE, and Byways funds through the States.

If you have a trail project proposal, first contact your State to find out the program requirements and criteria for project selection. As a project sponsor, you should:

Prepare a project development plan. What aspects do you need to address? Identify the issues and steps that are critical to the project development process. What are the trail needs? What can you do realistically?

What are the planning requirements? Does your project meets the goals of (or is it included in) a statewide or metropolitan transportation plan and/or a statewide trail plan? Projects using FHWA funds must be incorporated into a statewide transportation improvement program (STIP) or, if in a metropolitan area, in a metropolitan transportation improvement program (TIP).

Develop a workable project that meets the program requirements and eligible categories. A Scenic Byways project must relate to a scenic byway. A Transportation Enhancement project must relate to surface transportation. A Federal Lands project must provide access to or within Federal lands.

Get public support for the project. How does the project benefit the community? Are there other potential project sponsors?

Find other funding sources. Some State or local governments may provide some matching funds, but usually the project sponsor has to provide most or all of the match. Note that some programs have new matching flexibilities: as of the enactment of SAFETEA-LU, you can use RTP funds to match other Federal funds.

Consider donations of materials and services, including volunteer labor.

Consider how to involve youth conservation or service corps in the project. See for information on youth corps.

Develop a good project design, keeping safety and security in mind.

Consider the natural environment where the project is located.

Consider community benefits.

Consider user needs and desires, including use by people with disabilities.

Consider potential problems:

  • Environmental impacts must be minimized and mitigated, and may require some documentation.
  • Various permits may be needed prior to submitting the project proposal.
  • Possible opposition: some people may oppose a project for various reasons, including concerns about property rights, liability, safety, security, noise, historic or archaeological impacts, or environmental impacts.

Complete the project application:

  • Make sure you fill it out completely &emdash; States often reject incomplete applications.
  • Make sure you fill it out clearly &emdash; exactly what are you going to do?
  • Make sure you fill it out accurately &emdash; make sure numbers add up and facts check out.
  • Don't add items that aren't eligible &emdash; you risk the rest of your application, and you may also harm the integrity of the program if your ineligible items get found out.
  • Don't waste your time adding information that isn't necessary for project approval. The past 150 years of history might be interesting to you, but if it is too much extra reading, the reviewer might still reject it.

If your project is approved, get to work! States will withdraw project approval if a sponsor does not show evidence of project progress within a reasonable time frame.

This may be a long process, but you are not alone. The State administrators are there to help you. Most States have their applications widely available on websites, and many States are trying to streamline their application processes as much as possible.

For more program information:

Recreational Trails Program:

Transportation Enhancement Activities:

National Scenic Byways Program:

Federal Lands Highways Program:

Related topics:

More resources:

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