Public Agencies and Officials
Developing a rail-trail takes the efforts of a wide array of individuals and organizations. Many trail development projects are cooperative efforts between trail advocates, local municipalities and state agencies. This topic in the Trail-Building Toolbox will address how advocates for conversion of a railroad corridor into a multi-use trail can develop and nurture relationships with local and state agencies and municipalities.
Before delving into the interaction between trail advocates and public entities, it is important to state that some ground work needs to be done with adjacent property owners. Few things can delay or stop a trail project more than an adjacent property owner who learns about a proposed trail in his or her backyard from the local newspaper rather than from trail advocates themselves.
When considering the development of a multi-use trail along a rail corridor, either abandoned or active, one of the early steps should be to identify the local municipalities through which the corridor passes. This will vary considerably from state to state based upon the established form of government.
Building a Case Statement
It is critical to build a solid case for the development of the trail. Going before a town council or county commissioner and stating that the trail would be a "nice thing to have" will not help move your project forward. Public officials and local leaders must be provided with positive answers to questions such as: When developed, will the trail provide an economic stimulus to the municipality; will it make it safer for children to walk to school; and can people give up some car trips and use the trail to run errands?
Also be prepared to address more detailed questions such as: How much it will cost to develop and maintain the trail; who will own, manage and maintain the trail; how will security be addressed; how do the adjacent property owners feel about the trail; and what are the development steps ahead? Keep in mind that for many municipal leaders it's going to be all about the money. Build a compelling case that the development of the trail will benefit many aspects of the community and add to the area's quality of life.
Use the Meeting in a Box and other RTC resources to support your case and develop presentation materials for meetings with local leaders and the community at large.
Once you have built your case, there are two ways to start reaching out to local officials and agencies. One is to make one-on-one contacts with local municipal leaders whom you or others in your organization know personally. This could be an informal get-together to introduce your project and the benefits it will provide to your community. These meetings will also help you refine your presentation by uncovering questions or concerns that you may not have considered.
Now you are prepared to make a more formal presentation on your project to a larger audience. This may be at the town council meeting or with the mayor and key members of his or her staff (participants in this meeting will vary based on municipal government organization in your state and the agencies involved). If additional questions or concerns are raised at this meeting, develop responses and report back as soon as possible. Move on to meet with the governing body of each minor subdivision along the entire corridor.
When you are confident that you have a solid base of support from the local municipalities, move on and make your pitch to major governmental subdivisions. This may be a town, township or county. You may want to ask local boards and commissions to adopt a resolution of support for the trail project. RTC has prepared a sample resolution of support .
Memoranda of Understanding
Keep in mind that many trail projects have the potential to travel through multiple jurisdictions. In these instances, public officials will be concerned with dividing management and maintenance responsibilities and coming to a formal agreement with any other local or state department or agency involved. For more information on Memoranda of Understanding, take a look at the Management and Maintenance section of the Toolbox.
Identifying State and Regional Agencies and Officials
In many cases, state agencies will be sources of funding for the design and construction of your trail project. Be sure to identify state agencies and officials that will be instrumental in building your trail before it comes time to apply for funding. In all states, the Department of Transportation is charged with the management of Transportation Enhancement (TE) funds, a significant source of funding for trails.
Other agencies that may be involved include Parks and Recreation, Environmental Protection, Tourism and Economic Development. Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) or other types of regional intergovernmental bodies will also be helpful in assessing how the trail will fit into your region's transportation plans. Contact each agency and determine which department would be involved in the development of trails. Find state and local contacts for these key agencies by visiting the Web site listings below:
Determine what the procedures are for applying for grants, obtaining permits and other regulatory considerations. Again, once you know whom to speak with, one-on-one meetings to present your case statement are a good way to start building interest in your project.
Don't overlook gaining support from legislators at both the state and federal levels. Request a one-on-one meeting with your state legislators after you have built a solid case statement and gained local municipal support. Legislative allies can be helpful in identifying additional sources of project funding. Use GovEngine.com to search for your state and federal representatives.
The cultivation of relationships with public officials and agencies doesn't end when your rail-trail project is complete. There will be ongoing work to maintain funding while administrations change and individuals at key agencies retire. Keep these contacts up-to-date. An annual "state of the trail" presentation at the local level will help to ensure the long-term viability of your project.
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