The Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside (TASA) is the largest dedicated source of funding for trails, walking and bicycling in the United States. Since 1991, this program, formerly known as Transportation Enhancements (TE), has transformed the landscape of the country. While projects in several categories (including eligibilities such as historic preservation and highway beautification) are eligible for funding from this program, the consistent leading priority in TE/Transportation Alternatives (TA) investment since the program’s inception has been the improvement of conditions for walking and bicycling. In large part due to this dedicated funding, the United States now boasts more than 40,000 miles of multiuse trails and thousands of improved street facility projects that support biking and walking. Investment in active transportation infrastructure—such as sidewalks, bike lanes and trail networks— improves communities by connecting people to each other, creating economic vitality and promoting healthy outdoor mobility. This investment also saves money and decreases roadway congestion while reducing pollution and health care costs.i
The impact of TASA is poised to grow substantially, in part thanks to changes brought about by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL)1 approved by Congress in November 2021. While the BIL impacts will be measured for years to come, the opportunities the law provides for states and communities are already being realized. In addition to increasing the funding for TASA by an average of 70% over the course of five years, the BIL also closes loopholes that over the past decade have prevented TA funding from reaching its maximum potential.
Since the inception of TE, passed in 1991, through its transformation into TA in 2012, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has monitored for more than 30 years how these funds have been invested and the projects that have been built. This annual “Transportation Alternatives Spending Report” is an important tool for states, regions and active transportation professionals to understand and strengthen the program, thus improving the efficiency and impact of the investments made.
In this report, we provide a look at the history of TA programs and examine how recent changes are supporting state and local decision-makers and advocates in getting eligible projects funded.
- A total of $1.38 billion was apportioned to the states for the TA program in fiscal year (FY) 2022, in contrast to $850 million in FY 2021.
- A total of $779.12 million was obligated to TA projects in FY 2022, in contrast to $4.4 billion in TA application requests in FY 2020.2
- The transfer rate (TASA funds being moved away from the TASA program and into other projects) was 1.1%, compared to the FY 2021 transfer rate of 16%. This rate is significantly lower due to a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) prohibition on inter-program transfers for FY 2022.
- Obligation rates were 60% of apportioned funds, with the rate staying steady from FY 2021.
- Approximately $540 million of TE/TA/TASA funds was reimbursed in FY 2022, marking the completion of projects and the return of up-front funds to local communities.
What We Mean By Transportation Alternatives (TA)
(A Note on the Difference Between TE, TAP and TASA)
Transportation Enhancements, or TE, was the first dedicated source of federal funding for walking and biking. When Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), the legislation brought together roads, railroads, transit and other modes of transportation—including walking and biking—under one umbrella. Under ISTEA, Congress created TE, and ensured that funding would be available for bicycle and pedestrian transportation and for the preservation and enhancement of many of the nation’s scenic and historic assets.
The Transportation Alternatives Program, or TAP, was the next iteration of TE. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, known as MAP-21, was signed into law in 2012 with legislative language that recast many of the TE activities as Transportation Alternatives (TA). MAP-21 also consolidated the Safe Routes to School program and the Recreational Trails Program to create the TAP.
The Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside, or TASA, was the next iteration. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or FAST Act, was signed into law in 2015, eliminating TAP and replacing it with a set-aside of Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) program funding for TA. Eligible uses for these set-aside funds include all projects and activities previously eligible under TAP.
The difference between TAP and TASA is the structure by which funds are delivered. Under TAP, the funds came through a stand-alone program, and with TASA, the funds are a set-aside of the STBG program.
In this report, Transportation Alternatives, or the acronym TA, refers to the projects within the categories of eligibility, regardless of the delivery mechanisms for these funds. TA, therefore, encompasses both the stand-alone program (TAP) of MAP-21 and the set-aside (TASA), which began with the FAST Act.
1 Also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)
2 The FY 2021 application requests statistic was not available from FHWA at the time of publication; therefore the FY 2020 application requests statistic is used for comparison.
The Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange (TrADE) is operated by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC). TrADE helps stakeholders at the federal, state and local levels understand and make effective use of the Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside (TASA) program. TASA provides funding from the federal government for projects that expand travel choice, strengthen the local economy, improve quality of life and protect the environment. Eligible projects include most activities historically funded as “Transportation Enhancements,” (TE) the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) and the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. TrADE provides transparency, promotes best practices, and provides citizens, professionals and policymakers with information and access to funding data.
From 1996 to 2013, TrADE operated as the National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse, as a partnership between RTC and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
This report was written and produced by Katie Harris and Torsha Bhattacharya, Ph.D., reviewed by Kevin Mills, edited by Amy Kapp and designed by Joe LaCroix. Data collection and table and figure production were undertaken by Tif Mulally, Ph.D. The report was produced for TrADE at RTC.
Data for this report come from FHWA’s Financial Management Information System (FMIS) and from state departments of transportation (DOT) staff. This report utilizes early data from FMIS and may differ slightly from final federal reports. This publication would not be possible without information provided by staff from state DOTs to the TrADE team. Though states are not contractually required to provide this information, their voluntary participation has been essential to the success of the data exchange in creating openness and transparency and promoting best practices.
Katie Harris; Torsha Bhattacharya, Ph.D., Transportation Alternatives Spending Report Fiscal Years 1992–2022 (Washington, D.C.: Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, 2023).