The newsletter of AMERICAN TRAILS -- NEW YEARS 1998

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Trails legislation in Congress

ISTEA extended for six months; still faces test

During 1997, both the House and Senate introduced bills to reauthorize ISTEA, the fount from which federal transportation funding springs. Trail advocates were initially pleased because both bills kept the essential structure of ISTEA intact, including the Enhancements Program, which has been used to fund bicycle and pedestrian projects nationwide.

However, last-minute disputes over the balanced budget agreement resulted in a six-months' extension of ISTEA authority and funding, not a multi-year reauthorization. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott declared that reauthorization will be the top priority when the Senate reconvenes in January.

The concern is that truck and highway user lobbies and other opponents of Enhancements will use this breathing space to mount a campaign against what they call diversions of funding.

"It is easy to wonder how a piece of legislation as mold-breaking as ISTEA ever got passed in the first place. In 1991 a coalition of non-traditional transportation interests teamed up with a handful of far-thinking members of Congress and basically took the traditional transportation lobbies by surprise. This time, however, those traditional lobbies are ready."
&endash; Governing Magazine

Recreational Trails Fund Still in ISTEA

Another prize in the ISTEA package is the Recreational Trails Program, which provides funds for backcountry and motorized trails, as well as greenways.

Under the short-term extension of ISTEA, $7.5 million has been approved for Recreational Trails through March 1998. Both the House and Senate authorizing committees have already approved language which would guarantee increased funding for trails. If included in the final version of ISTEA, the trails program would receive between $131 and $270 million over six years.

For more information on the Recreational Trails Program, contact the Coalition for Recreational Trails, 1225 New York Ave. NW, Ste. 450, Washington DC 20005; (202) 682-9530; Fax (202) 682-9529.

Anti-railbanking bills shelved for now

Two bills in the past session mounted threats to railbanking. Both bills, sponsored by Kansas members of the House, gathered dozens of co-sponsors. While neither bill emerged from committee, they are likely to reappear in the new session of Congress.

H.R. 2438, introduded by Rep. Jim Ryun, would effectively repeal the railbanking provisions of the National Trails System Act. It would substitute the authority of state laws in determining whether abandoned rail corridors are preserved for future rail use and interim trail use. Although purporting to champion the value of returning decision-making to the local level, Mr. Ryun neglected to consult with local officials along the railbanked Prairie Spirit Trail in his home district. The mayor of Garnett, Kansas, and the city manager of Ottowa travelled to Washington, DC, to testify against the bill at its October 30 Congressional hearing.

H.R. 2352, introduced by Rep. Jerry Moran, would amend the National Trails System Act to require local approval of designations of railroad rights-of-way for interim use as trails. "People who live in Washington, DC, do not always understand what the communities in Kansas desire," he said. The bill saw no action in the last session of Congress.

LWCF money: more for feds, zero for states

On November 14 President Clinton signed a bill appropriating nearly a billion dollars for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In this complex bill, the "regular" $270 million is appropriated for federal projects, including at least $66 million for a special Everglades project. No funding is included for state and local parks and trails programs.

An additional, one-time appropriation of $699 million is the subject of some contention. Originally the Senate provided $100 million for state and local grants, $285 million to address the backlog of federal land acquisition projects, and $315 million for acquisitions in California and Montana. The final version of the bill, however, earmarks $362 million for either federal land acquisition or operations and maintenance on federal land management agencies, but no funds are allocated for the states.