Last Friday, President Obama signed the omnibus budget bill into law, which lays out funding for the remainder of the 2016 fiscal year.
The bill funds two programs that offer potential resources for trails: the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
TIGER Roars in Omnibus
The TIGER program helps fund substantial and important transportation projects that would otherwise have difficulty finding enough funding. TIGER grants can be awarded to a variety of transportation types—including trails, walking and biking. In this program, active-transportation projects compete alongside road, rail, port and transit projects for funding.
TIGER has helped dozens of communities and millions of people obtain better and safer access to walking and biking infrastructure. For example, in 2014, New York City received a TIGER grant to assist with implementing Vision Zero under the Saving Lives and Providing Opportunity project in order to make walking and biking safer in a city that is notorious for crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists. From New York to Los Angeles, from urban Memphis, Tennessee, to rural Missoula, Montana, TIGER has helped people across the nation safely get where they need to go under their own steam.
Earlier in the process, the House had passed a version of the bill that slashed funding for TIGER, while a Senate committee recommended keeping the level the same. The RTC community sent nearly 2,000 comments urging their members of Congress to support sufficient funding for TIGER. Thanks to grassroots support and the commitment by some members of Congress, the program received the same level of funding as last year in this year’s omnibus budget bill.
We recently posted a blog on the FAST Act, which Congress passed earlier this month. Although this bill funded most transportation programs, TIGER was not included and instead will continue to need funding every year during the budget process. As a result, we will continue to fight every year to ensure this program is funded.
Wins for Conservation
Just as members and supporters of RTC rushed in to support the TIGER program, some of our partners and their supporters fought to reauthorize the popular, 50-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which had expired earlier this year. In a new agreement, the fund is authorized for three years—less than supporters had hoped for but a good starting point for a permanent reauthorization.
Paid for by part of the fees from off-shore drilling, the LWCF helps to protect land and water through means such as national parks and protected forest or wildlife areas. The funds are distributed to federal agencies such as the National Park Service and to states for administering grant programs. For trails, it was important to retain both aspects, as trails are eligible for the state-run grants and also receive a portion of the federal funds provided to certain National Scenic and Historic Trails. Many thanks to our partners for their terrific efforts to re-establish the LWCF!
Funding for Trails Continues
By including sufficient funding for TIGER and reauthorizing the LWCF in their annual budget, Congress has provided funding for two programs that have the power to build trails and places to safely walk or bike. As we look toward the new year, that’s a holiday gift we can all appreciate.