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Administration proposals for transportation funding promote "livability"

By Stuart Macdonald, American Trails Magazine and website editor

 

One of the big changes proposed for reauthorizing federal transportation funding is consolidation of the many separate programs, including the Recreational Trails Program. The Obama Administration has suggested eliminating over 60 individual highway programs and creating six new funding categories, including "Livability." Trail activists have been eager to know whether that would preserve funding for trails and greenways, or lose it in the crush of bigger transportation priorities.

On the positive side is language in the FY 2012 Budget Estimates document for the Federal Highway Administration. It described the Livability Program as "a new funding program that will support the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Livable Communities strategic goal which aims to foster livable communities through place-based policies and investments that increase transportation choices and access to transportation services." It also specifically cites maintaining "successful programs" which include Recreational Trails, Transportation Enhancements, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement, National Scenic Byways, and Safe Routes to School as programs that "will continue to be eligible under the formula-based component of the Livability Program."

The more recent language from a "leaked" USDOT document is even more specific. However, the administration has backed away from these proposals. As of May 10, 2011, we were informed that the Administration "is not releasing a formal bill for the public and/or Congress." See updates as we receive them at the Recreational Trails Program news page...

 

NOTE: the following is from an unauthorized draft obtained and circulated by transportation advocates in Washington, DC. While it may not reflect actual program proposals, it does flesh out the thinking on "livability" that has been promoted by USDOT Secretry Ray LaHood over the past year.

"USDOT undated draft section-by-section summary of draft reauth bill obtained by Transportation Weekly

"SEC. 2211. LIVABILITY PROGRAM

"This section would authorize a new Livability Program to promote safe and efficient multi-modal choices for transportation users throughout the country; increase access transportation services; enhance the relationship between transportation and land use while protecting the environment; provide affordable connections from residences to employment centers and other key amenities; and enhance economic opportunities and environmental sustainability.

"The Livability Program would consist of three program components: the formula-based Livable Communities Program, the discretionary Bicycling and Walking Transportation Grant Program, and a discretionary Livability Capacity Building Grant Program.

"Livable Communities Program (or "Livable Communities Demonstration Grant Program")

"Subsection (c) would authorize the Secretary to establish a new formula-based Livable Communities Program, codified in section 150(a) of title 23. The purposes of this program would include helping States deliver transportation projects that improve quality of life for communities across the country, including rural and urban areas; improving the safety and efficiency of the transportation system for all transportation modes; reducing impacts of transportation on the environment, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; reducing the need for costly future transportation infrastructure; ensuring efficient access to jobs, services and centers of trade; and encouraging private sector development patterns and investments that support livability goals.

"Proposed section 150(a)(3) of title 23 would outline the eligible projects and activities under the Livable Communities Program. Eligible activities for the formula-based program would include those currently eligible under 23 U.S.C. sections 101(a)(35), 149(b), 162, 206, and 217 and SAFETEA-LU section 1404 (i.e., Transportation Enhancement Activities, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, National Scenic Byways Program, Recreational Trails Program, Bicycle Transportation and Pedestrian Walkways, and Safe Routes to School, respectively). The eligible activities from these popular programs represent key livability-related transportation activities, ranging from congestion reduction and traffic flow improvements to walking and bicycling facilities to environmental mitigation for highway projects.

"Section 150(a)(4) would continue to require air quality improvements for nonattainment and maintenance areas. If a State has nonattainment or maintenance areas it would be required to devote at least15 percent of its Livable Communities Program funds to projects that will improve air quality in these areas. States without nonattainment and maintenance areas would not be constrained by this minimum requirement. Section 150(a)(5) would specify that a State may use Livable Communities Program funds for a transit project if such project would improve air quality in a nonattainment or maintenance area, except that such use of funds could not exceed the amount required to be set aside under paragraph (4).

"Section 150(a)(6) would require States to use such sums as necessary to fund one or more State bicycle and pedestrian coordinators and a full-time safe routes to school coordinator.

"An additional subsection, apparently not completed, would create a Bicycling and Walking Transportation Grant Program. Applicants could request up to $20 million for eligible projects, which would include "constructing networks of nonmotorized transportation infrastructure facilities, including sidewalks, bikeways, and shared use paths, that connect people with public transportation, workplaces, schools, residences, businesses, recreation areas, and other community activity centers; providing for bicycle facilities, including bicycle sharing stations; restoring and upgrading current nonmotorized transportation infrastructure facilities; supporting educational activities and activities to encourage biking, safety-oriented activities, and technical assistance to further the purposes of the program; and improving safety for pedestrians and bicyclists."

 

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