Trails and the Federal Transportation Act

November, 2015 – The Federal Surface Transportation Act is the nation’s “highways bill” and is generally reauthorized every 4-6 years although this program has lately been running on a series of extensions. It now nears the end of another extension and Congress is working urgently on a full-fledged transportation bill rather than resorting to simply one more extension.

Since 1991 the Transportation Act has been much broader than just a “highways bill,” focusing on moving people and goods from place to place by various ground modes of transportation. As such, included in the transportation bill is funding for things such as trails, shared use paths, and other hiking-related projects throughout the country.

Of primary interest to the hiking community is the Recreational Trails Program (RTP). This program, utilizing a “user-pay/user-benefit” model, uses just a small portion of the taxes from the sale of fuel purchased by nonhighway trail users such as off road vehicles and snowmobiles. These funds are used for all sorts of trail projects, projects that benefit not just motorized trail users but also hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians. These RTP funds are distributed to the states which subsequently awards grants for various trail projects.

Unfortunately, RTP has been a frequent target for some lawmakers since they feel that the transportation bill should focus only on moving cars and trucks since it is largely – though by no means exclusively – paid for by fuel taxes. In fact, as mentioned earlier, RTP is funded through its own user-pay/user-benefit gas tax.

It would be incredibly shortsighted if the relatively small fraction of funding authorized for RTP was cut in the upcoming transportation bill. AHS hopes that you will take a moment and let your Representative know that RTP funding is an incredibly sound investment in facilities that contribute significantly to both, public health and the nation’s economy.