Recreational Trails Program




Analysis of the programs and funding opportunities in the final transportation bill, signed into law July 6, 2012.




MAP-21 creates "Transportation Alternatives" for trail and bike/ped funding


Compiled by Stuart Macdonald, American Trails website manager

photo of cyclists on long straight trail

The new "Transportation Alternatives" category includes bike/ped
facilities, trails and greenways, and conversion of abandoned
railroads, as this Greenville, SC project (Photo by Stuart Macdonald)


The new federal transportation funding authority was finally passed amid bi-partisan compromise. There is plenty to displease every interest, and the problem of paying for long-term transportation improvements was left for the next Congress.

There are three big issues causing concern among activists:

- States can shift funds away from bike/ped projects, and can opt out of the trails program entirely

- Overall funding for bike/ped facilities is reduced

- Competition with other activities is increased


Transportation Alternatives

Under the new agreement, funding for key bicycle and pedestrian programs such as Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes To School is eliminated. A new program, "Transportation Alternatives," consolidates the current twelve eligible activities under six new headings.

These are the six eligible categories for types of projects (see details in the "Transportation Alternatives" language from HR 4348 below):

A. "on-road and off-road trail facilities" — Construction, planning, and design of bike/ped infrastructure

B. "safe routes for non drivers" — Also bike/ped infrastructure, specifically mentioning children, older adults, and individuals with disabilities

C. "abandoned railroad corridors for trails" — Conversion of rail corridors for pedestrians and bicyclists, or other non-motorized transportation users

D. "turnouts, overlooks, and viewing areas" — Apparently roadside facilities previously included in the scenic byways program

E. "community improvement activities" — Rights-of–way improvements: billboards, historic and archeological preservation, and vegetation management and erosion control (analogous to Landscaping in TE)

F. "environmental mitigation" — Stormwater management, wildlife mortality, and " connectivity among terrestrial or aquatic habitats"


Transportation Alternatives funding and administration

The new program will receive about $780 million for Transportation Alternatives projects across the country, which is believed to be about a 26% reduction from the current $1.2 billion spent on Enhancements and similar programs. Under the bill, states will sub-allocate 50% of their TA funds to Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and communities for local project grants. States could use the remaining 50% for TA projects or could spend these dollars on other transportation priorities such as air quality improvement projects.

Section 1509 no longer exempts transportation alternatives from the transferability clause, so state DOTs may transfer their half of the reserved funding anywhere in the state to other programs, and MPOs and states can agree to transfer their portion as well. According to Tanya Snyder of Streetsblog, "States that sit on their TA money long enough can use it for things like truck stop electrification systems, HOV lanes, turning lanes, and diesel retrofits."

The states and MPOs will continue to "develop a competitive process to allow eligible entities to submit projects for funding." Eligible applicants are defined as "any other local or regional governmental entity with responsibility for or oversight of transportation or recreational trails (other than a metropolitan planning organization or a State agency)." It is not clear whether this leaves out the ability of States to fund their own state park trail projects, for instance.

See State-specific maps of Transportation Management Agencies (TMAs) for MAP-21 funding implementation, by Rails to Trails Conservancy

Funded programs

Recreational Trails Program is continued at the current funding levels— $ 85 million a year— through the end of fiscal year 2014. However, States may opt out of the recreational trails program by request of the governor. See more information on RTP and relevant text from the transportation bill...

Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program remains essentially intact, providing funding eligibility for a range of projects that may include bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

Wallop-Breaux sport fishing program, which some communities and States have used for trails along streams, lakes, and other water features where fishing access is a key benefit.

A new Federal Lands Transportation Program rolls all the transportation programs for the FWS, NPS, USFS, BLM, and Corps of Engineers into a $300 million per year program. It allocates $240 million to the NPS, $30 million to the FWS, and lets the FS, BLM and COE compete for the remaining $30 million. The Public Lands Highway Discretionary Program and the Forest Highway Program will be replaced by the $250 million per year Federal Lands Access Program. Trails are eligible for funding under all the programs, but will need to compete with the infrastructure needs and deferred maintenance backlog pressures the Federal land management agencies will have.

Eliminated programs

Safe Routes To School program is eliminated as a stand-alone program, along with dedicated funding for full-time SRTS Coordinator positions. However, children are specifically identified under the category of providing "safe routes for non drivers."

National Scenic Byways program is completely eliminated under the final conference agreement. However, "construction of turnouts, overlooks, and viewing areas" is specifically eligible under the Transportation Alternatives program.

Complete Streets language that would have established a national Complete Streets policy was eliminated. However, according to the American Society of Landscape Architects, "the Highway Safety Improvement Program language in the report includes a new, more comprehensive definition of street users that is based on Complete Streets language."

Land and Water Conservation Fund language authorizing $1.4 billion in funding for conservation, land acquisition, parks, and trails was eliminated. However, on June 28 the House Appropriations Committee approved a FY 2013 appropriations bill that includes funding for LWCF activities. For federal land acquisition the committee would reduce funds to $51.6 million, compared to the current appropriation of $186.7 million. Stateside grants were reduced to $2.8 million, compared to a FY 2012 appropriation of $45 million.

Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in the Parks also goes away October 1. The $27 million program has helped fund in trails connecting Moab, UT, BLM land, the Colorado river, and Arches National Park; and part of the 20-mile pathway connecting Jackson Hole, WY, Grand Tetons NP, and the National Elk Refuge.

The bill also eliminates categories for bike/ped safety and education, transportation museums, and the acquisition of scenic and historic easements.


Categorical exclusions

The bill also addresses environmental reviews, and directs the Secretary of Transportation to "designate, through rulemaking, certain activities as categorical exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act." These categorical exclusions would include "any project within the existing operational right-of-way." The categorical exclusion would also apply to "any project that receives less than $5,000,000 in Federal funds and any project with a total estimated cost of not more than $30,000,000 receiving Federal funds comprising less than 15 percent of the total estimated project costs." This whole area need the attention of funding administrators, but it would appear to eliminate the often expensive NEPA reviews from virtually every Recreational Trails Program project and from most shared-use urban pathways and bike/ped facilities as well.


Text from HR 4348/MAP 21 transportation bill

See the complete MAP-21 bill as signed...

The Federal Highway Administration provided a summary of programs in the MAP-21 law



§ 213. Transportation alternatives

‘(b) ELIGIBLE PROJECTS.— A State may obligate the funds reserved under this section for any of the following projects or activities:
‘‘(1) Transportation alternatives, as defined in section 101.
‘‘(2) The recreational trails program under section 206.
‘‘(3) The safe routes to school program under section 1404 of the SAFETEA–LU (23 U.S.C. 402 note; Public Law 109–59).
‘‘(4) Planning, designing, or constructing boulevards and other roadways largely in the right-of-way of former Interstate System routes or other divided highways.

‘‘(1) CALCULATION.—Of the funds reserved in a State under this section—
‘‘(A) 50 percent for a fiscal year shall be obligated under this section to any eligible entity in proportion to their relative shares of the population of the State—
‘‘(i) in urbanized areas of the State with an urbanized area population of over 200,000;
‘‘(ii) in areas of the State other than urban areas with a population greater than 5,000; and
‘‘(iii) in other areas of the State; and
‘‘(B) 50 percent shall be obligated in any area of the State.


The term ‘transportation alternatives’ means any of the following activities when carried out as part of any program or project authorized or funded under this title, or as an independent program or project related to surface transportation:

‘‘(A) Construction, planning, and design of on-road and off-road trail facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other nonmotorized forms of transportation, including sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure, pedestrian and bicycle signals, traffic calming techniques, lighting and other safety-related infrastructure, and transportation projects to achieve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.).

‘‘(B) Construction, planning, and design of infrastructure-related projects and systems that will provide safe routes for non drivers, including children, older adults, and individuals with disabilities to access daily needs.

‘‘(C) Conversion and use of abandoned railroad corridors for trails for pedestrians, bicyclists, or other non-motorized transportation users.

‘‘(D) Construction of turnouts, overlooks, and viewing areas.‘

‘(E) Community improvement activities, including—
‘‘(i) inventory, control, or removal of outdoor advertising;
‘‘(ii) historic preservation and rehabilitation of historic transportation facilities;
‘‘(iii) vegetation management practices in transportation rights-of-way to improve roadway safety, prevent against invasive species, and provide erosion control; and
‘‘(iv) archaeological activities relating to impacts from implementation of a transportation project eligible under this title.

‘‘(F) Any environmental mitigation activity, including pollution prevention and pollution abatement activities and mitigation to—
‘‘(i) address stormwater management, control, and water pollution prevention or abatement related to highway construction or due to highway runoff, including activities described in sections 133(b)(11), 328(a), and 329; or
‘‘(ii) reduce vehicle-caused wildlife mortality or to restore and maintain connectivity among terrestrial or aquatic habitats.’’

arrowMore discussion of the transportation funding bill:


Background on the Recreational Trails Program

arrow Download the Recreational Trails Program information sheet

arrow See "California's Active Transportation proposal"

arrow See "Two States "opt out" of Recreational Trails Program Funding"

arrow See "Indiana Gov. Daniels announces continued Recreational Trails Program funding"

arrow See "States announce trail funding after opting out of RTP"


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