Commentary: Should trail development be funded by the federal government?

Commentary
By Russ Phillips

Congress recently returned to Washington and is faced with several critical issues in the coming weeks, among them a Highway Transportation bill.

The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) uses 2 percent of the federal Highway Account for trail development and other non-highway purposes. For FY 2015 this is $820 million.

Some may consider this an insignificant amount when total federal expenditures are considered. However, it is this thinking that has led to our federal government having an $18.3 trillion national debt. Just like a home budget, priorities must be established.

Trail development should be solely funded by state and local tax dollars, if at all. These levels of government are more accountable and more easily influenced by the citizenry than the national level.

Rails-to-Trails (RtoT), the leading advocate for trails in the nation, has 160,000 members and supporters and is aggressively lobbying for the continuation of the TAP. Forty-four percent of rail-trails in the U.S. have been built with federal support and more than 8,000 miles of former rail corridors “are waiting to be turned into great trails,” according to RtoT. In June a bill was introduced in the House that would have eliminated TAP. RtoT notes, “More than 12,000 supporters emailed your representatives and senators to oppose their bill—within 36 hours of our alert.” In July a Senate amendment was introduced to eliminate the TAP. You can be sure that this advocacy group is being heard on this matter. If you do not support TAP have you let your Senators and Representative know? RtoT has even stated, “…senators seeking to eliminate the program lack a constituency.” Really? I suspect that there are many, given the condition of highways, bridges and other infrastructure, that feel the federal gas tax should not be used for trail development. It is time for them to be heard.

Rail-to-Trails, also referred to as Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC), is a client of two registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

What else is Rails-to-Trails saying?
…”Senate Bill Inadequately Funds Walking, Biking, but Provides Innovative Financing Options” (6/23/15)
…”Senate Passes ‘So-So’ Federal Transportation Bill. What’s Next for Trails?” (8/4/15)
…”Congress on Trails: Next Steps for Transportation Legislation” (9/17/15)

Do your Senators and Representative know your opinion on this matter? Are you part of Rails-to-Trails 160,000 members and supporters or do you feel differently about federal gas tax funds being used regarding trails?


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