Photo by Dylan Passmore

RTC’s policy work aims to protect and increase funding for trails and active-transportation projects. Trails compete with a wide variety of other transportation projects for a limited amount of funds.

Trails, and walking and bicycling projects make up only about 1.5 percent of total federal surface transportation spending, but this modest share of federal funds has helped to build tens of thousands of trails and active-transportation facilities across the country and has leveraged additional state, local and private funds.

Overview of Funding

Funding for active transportation and trail projects is made possible through public funds from local and state governments or the federal government, or through private funds. Federal funds for transportation typically come from the Highway Trust Fund, which receives revenue through the federal tax on gasoline, diesel fuel and other sources. Congress has also used general funds to support the Highway Trust Fund.

Because the gas tax has not been increased since 1993, nor kept pace with inflation, the trust fund is insufficient to cover current costs. Members of Congress and the Obama administration have been debating how to increase the revenue in the trust fund.

Read about building an active transportation system for more information on how these projects are funded through the federal government.

The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) is the nation’s top source of funding for trails and active transportation. In 2012, Congress combined three programs that fund trails, walkways and bikeways into TAP:

  1. The Recreational Trails Program, which funds recreational trails using a portion of the motor fuel tax collected from off-road fuel use
  2. The Transportation Enhancements (TE) program (now known as Transportation Alternatives), which funds trails, walking and biking projects, plus projects that improve the quality of road and transit projects
  3. The Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) program, which funds programs and infrastructure (including sidewalks) meant to encourage children and their families to safely walk or bike to school

Private funds may also be used for bike and pedestrian projects. Currently, the federal government makes financing available for large transportation projects through the Transportation Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program. TIFIA provides federal credit assistance for large projects designed to leverage private funding of projects.

Since the minimum threshold of TIFIA projects (at least $50 million in urban areas and $25 million in rural areas) is so high, it is very rarely used to fund low-cost bicycle and pedestrian projects.


The National Trails System Act of 1983 helps facilitate the preservation of about to be abandoned railroad rights-of-way to create rail trails. This law allows railroads to free themselves of unprofitable rail lines by donating, selling or leasing them to private or public agencies for use as a trail.

This federal policy has helped trail enthusiasts across the country build up the rail-trail network. Visit our page on railbanking for more information.