After months of uncertainty over the future of transportation funding in California, Governor Jerry Brown last week signed into law an unprecedented integrated funding program that we feel, at this early stage, is a step in right direction.
The change will roll most existing state and federal sources of funding for trails, biking and walking into one fund, to be known as the Active Transportation Program (ATP). The Brown administration believes streamlining the process for financing biking and walking projects will reduce administrative inefficiencies and enable greater state and local control.
The ATP will combine federal Transportation Alternatives, Recreational Trails Program (RTP) and Safe Routes to Schools program funding, along with state funding sources for biking and walking infrastructure, into a single $129 million fund.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy led a broad coalition of trail supporters to victory in preserving RTP, which the Brown Administration had intended to cancel. Federal transportation legislation gives state governors the right to opt out of RTP, but only one state in the nation - Florida - chose to do so.
The trails community came out in force, and we successfully turned the Administration around on the important of the Rec Trails Program. Secretary Brian Kelly and his staff realized that RTP funds important projects that improve both active transportation and recreation in California.
As a result of a compromise with the Brown Administration, RTP funds will be split, with 40 percent going into the new ATP, and 60 percent remaining in a separate Recreational Trails stand-alone program to be administered by California State Parks. But both portions are earmarked exclusively for recreational trail projects.
That Governor Brown has made active transportation funding such a high profile issue is a great sign for the state's trails and transportation future. But, while we are optimistic about the new single funding source, rhetoric about the importance of active transportation must be matched by an increase in funding.
The current iteration of the Active Transportation Program represents moving money from one pot to another. While we do appreciate the gains these administrative improvements will make, the next step is to see an increase in funding support for these investments from sources like cap-and-trade auction revenue. There is so much at stake. The evidence is overwhelming that communities with greater access to trails, bike lanes, greenways, and places of active recreation are healthier, economically stronger, and avoid many of the severe downsides of a transportation system dominated by roads. If this is the California we want, then we need to invest in these facilities.
For more information about California's new Active Transportation Program, get all the facts in our dedicated page at www.railstotrails.org.