Act Now to Access New Federal Funding for Trails

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Trails Transform America


When the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (H.R.3684), otherwise known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, passed in November 2021, it included reauthorization of the nation’s federal surface transportation bill that more than doubled funding for trails, walking and biking. The bill bolsters long-standing federal programs for trails and active transportation and creates new funding and new opportunities to advance trail networks nationwide, including:

  • A nearly 70% increase for the legacy Transportation Alternatives Program (which includes the Recreational Trails Program) from $850 million to an average of $1.44 billion per year, so that states and localities can build trails and other active transportation projects.
  • Authorizing the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act (H.R.2991/S.684), listed in the bill as the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program, at $200 million per year. The program requires annual funding through appropriations but does establish new competitive connectivity grants that will accelerate local and regional plans to create safe, convenient walking and biking routes to everyday destinations.

Now, the focus shifts to unlocking these funds for trail and active transportation networks across the country so that communities can quickly pursue the potential of trails and trail networks to transform America. At the same time, advocacy continues in pursuit of two significant items of unfinished business:  increasing funding for the Recreational Trails Program, the only federal source of trail maintenance funding, to at least $250 million annually, and fully funding connectivity grants at $500 million per year.

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Federal Transportation Funding for Trails, Walking and Biking


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.   

Related: RTC's Full Breakdown of Trail and Active Transportation Funding Opportunities in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law


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 DOTs on how to implement the TA funding in alignment with policy changes included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

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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 is the only federal funding source for trail maintenance.

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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.

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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.

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 and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program can be used to develop connected active transportation infrastructure that provides walking and biking routes to routine destinations.

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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 (RAISE) Grants and the new Reconnecting Communities program specifically address the need to reduce barriers that limit mobility choice and disproportionately impact underserved communities.

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Photo by Anthony Le
Photo by Anthony Le
Saftey

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.

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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.

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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.

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Photo courtesy Getty Images
Photo courtesy Getty Images
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.

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TrADE: RTC’s Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange


For 30 years, over $20 billion in federal funds have been invested in trails and walking and biking projects nationwide through the Transportation Alternatives Program. Even though this investment represents only a sliver of the country’s overall spending on surface transportation, it provides the financial foundation to build the nation’s trails and active transportation systems. Since the program’s inception, RTC has tracked spending through an annual Transportation Alternatives Spending Report, which outlines program investments in each state. This ongoing accounting of program implementation is an important tool in efforts to strengthen the program, improving the efficiency and efficacy of the investments made.

EXPLORE DATABASE  VIEW LATEST ANALYSIS  PROJECT SEARCH


Active Transportation Policy Hub


Explore RTC’s resource for the latest in state and local funding strategies for trails, biking and walking.

EXPLORE POLICY HUB


Making the Case


Across America, demand for trails, walking and biking continues to grow. Trail and active transportation networks are emerging, and communities are seeking to maximize the benefits that this type of connectivity can bring.

RTC’s newest research proves that this work is changing our communities—urban, suburban and rural—for the better. As the connectivity of trail networks improves, so does the health of people and places. One example can be seen in the current economic return on investment, with combined health, climate and economic benefits currently delivering more than $34.1 billion annually. A return that can be doubled, and even quadrupled, as connectivity spreads to more places in America.

The evidence is on our side. Investing public funds in trail and active transportation projects delivers powerful outcomes, which are multiplied as the connectivity of the infrastructure improves. Active transportation is already transforming America. Its benefits are far-reaching and bring powerful outcomes to every type of community. RTC’s newest study, “Active Transportation Transforms America,” is the nation’s most comprehensive analysis of the quantifiable impact of trails, walking and biking on the places we live. Use it to help you make the case for public investment in trails and active transportation.

With more than 40,000 miles of multiuse trails on the ground, now is the time to demand transformative change by targeting investments that weave together existing trails and other active transportation infrastructure into networks that connect within communities, and spines that connect between states—just as our road and rail systems are designed.


Featured Projects


Focused investment in connecting trail and active transportation networks—closing key infrastructure gaps within communities and across state lines—has the potential to unlock billions of dollars for the U.S. economy annually. Explore this collection of projects that are waiting on the public funds needed to unlock enormous benefits.

As Congress and federal policymakers plan for the country’s economic recovery from COVID-19 and turn their attention to reauthorize the nation’s federal transportation bill, these projects are examples of compelling opportunities for trail and active transportation networks to play a critical role in getting people back to work while contributing to healthy, safe and equitable communities.

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