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Federal Funding For Trails

Photo courtesy Getty Images

In November 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Jobs and Investment Act (IIJA)—also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL)—that included the five-year reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs. This bill significantly increased funds for trails and active transportation programs, bolstering familiar, long-standing programs and added new funding opportunities for trails, walking and biking.

Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC) has long championed transformative policy changes to drive mode shift by increasing funding for active transportation and creating accountability for progress on climate, equity and safety. The increase in funding for trails, walking and biking under this new law creates urgency to support communities in accessing these funds in a timely manner to demonstrate the demand that exists for this funding and to accelerate the creation of trail networks and safe walking and biking routes to routine destinations—essential infrastructure to make it safe and convenient for more people to walk and bike where they want to go. Prioritizing such projects across funding programs will set important precedents and success on the ground will build political will for future progress.

RTC’s federal funding resources offer the latest information about potential federal funding opportunities for trails and active transportation, as well as tools to help communities successfully apply for grants or navigate reimbursement programs.

Looking for RTC’s grant program? RTC’s Trail Grants program helps organizations and government agencies accelerate their trail network plans.

Federal Funding Tool - Photo by Anthony Le

RTC’s new federal funding tool will help you identify funding sources that may be a good fit for your projects.

Use RTC’s Federal Funding Tool

Notice of Funding Opportunity

Applications are now open for the FY 2024 Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) funding cycle. Applications are due Feb. 28, 2024, through Grants.gov. You can find the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) here.

Dedicated Active Transportation Funding Sources

These programs provide federal funding that is dedicated to trails, walking and biking.

Cherry Creek Regional Trail | Photo by TrailLink user angiedickson
Cherry Creek Regional Trail | Photo by TrailLink user angiedickson

Transportation Alternatives

The nation’s largest dedicated federal funding source for trails and active transportation. New guidance instructs state departments of transportation (DOTs) on how to implement the TA funding in alignment with policy changes included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Hudson River Greenway | Photo by TrailLink user umardrr1225
Hudson River Greenway | Photo by TrailLink user umardrr1225

Recreational Trails Program

Funded by gas taxes paid by off-road vehicles, the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) is dedicated to the construction, restoration and maintenance of nonmotorized and motorized recreational trails (paved and unpaved) and trail-related facilities.

Bicyclist in front of Lincoln Memorial - Photo courtesy Getty Images
Photo courtesy Getty Images

Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program

This new program, administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), establishes a competitive grant program focused on connecting active transportation infrastructure.

Multimodal Programs

These multimodal transportation programs are broader in scope and more competitive due to expanded eligibility but create opportunities for trail and active transportation projects and can address specific issues like climate, equity and safety.

Sugarland Run Stream Valley Trail hike in Herndon, Virginia, Fairfax county in spring with paved path road and silhouette of couple walking - Photo courtesy Getty Images
Photo courtesy Getty Images

Climate and Environment

The transportation sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change and driving less is essential to reduce emissions. Programs like the Carbon Reduction Program, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program and the PROTECT grant can be used to develop connected active transportation infrastructure that provides walking and biking routes to routine destinations.

Running group - Photo courtesy Getty Images
Photo courtesy Getty Images

Equity

Creating and expanding trail and active transportation networks increases mobility options, especially for those who cannot or choose not to drive. Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Grants (RAISE) and Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects (NSLFTP), alongside new programs, Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhood Access and Equity, which are combined in 2023 under the new Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods Program, help achieve these goals. These new programs specifically address the need to reduce barriers that limit mobility choice and disproportionately impact underserved communities.

Pennsylvania cycle track - Photo by Anthony Le
Photo by Anthony Le

Safety

Trails and active transportation networks can play a critical role in reducing serious injuries and fatalities by separating vulnerable road users from traffic and providing connected walking and biking routes to routine destinations. The Safe Streets and Roads for All Program and the Highway Safety Improvement Program create new opportunities and requirements to invest in vulnerable road user safety.

Other Eligible Funding Sources

Trails and active transportation projects are eligible for funding under these programs that are competitive against other local and state priorities.

Photo courtesy Senate Democrats | CC BY 2.0
Photo courtesy Senate Democrats | CC BY 2.0

American Rescue Plan/Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds

These funds are intended to provide relief and assistance to local, state and tribal governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mount Vernon Trail in Virginia | Photo by Milo Allerton
Mount Vernon Trail in Virginia | Photo by Milo Allerton

Earmarks

These funds support local priorities and are requested by members of Congress.

Sunset Rolling Landscape - Photo courtesy Getty Images
Photo courtesy Getty Images

Rural Surface Transportation Grant (RSTG)

The Rural Surface Transportation Grant (RSTG) program supports projects that will improve and expand surface transportation infrastructure in rural areas.

Resources

Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, SC | Photo by TrailLink user iancurcio
Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, SC | Photo by TrailLink user iancurcio

Resources for Local Leaders

Officials at the local, state, regional and federal levels often hold the keys to funding or policy changes to catalyze networks.

Wisconsin’s Oak Leaf Trail | Photo by Front Room Media
Wisconsin’s Oak Leaf Trail | Photo by Front Room Media

Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange

Rails to Trails Conservancy’s Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange (TrADE) is the nation’s go-to transportation funding data source for trails and active transportation, tracking TA spending for tens of thousands of projects.

All Other Programs

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides a variety of new and robust funding sources for trails and active transportation networks, as well as new eligibility and increased funding for existing programs.

Thriving Communities Program (TCP)

The TCP is designed to provide technical assistance and capacity building for communities that have experienced longstanding and systemic disinvestment and economic distress.

USDOT Funding Chart

The USDOT has created a very detailed and comprehensive chart documenting all their pedestrian and bicycle funding sources. This document includes project types and links to funding sources.

Federal Transportation Funding FY 2023 Grant Checklist

The USDOT has created a comprehensive preparation checklist for potential applicants to prepare and apply for new funding passed under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Submitting For Competitive NOFOs: Best Practices

United for Infrastructure and the National League of Cities (NLC), alongside officials from USDOT, outline best practices and pitfalls for funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Media and Statements