On Nov. 12, 2019, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) awarded substantial grants to support several trail and active transportation projects, as well as multimodal projects with trail and active transportation elements, around the country. These investments rose to the top in the highly competitive BUILD program (or Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development), which has taken the place of the popular TIGER grant program as USDOT’s means of funding important transportation projects that otherwise lack sufficient funding from other sources.
In the United States, half of all trips can be made with a 20-minute bike ride, and over a quarter can be made with a 20-minute walk. Local communities can transform the way we travel by making these trips safer for people who choose to get around by modes other than cars. The trails community has long understood the transformative impacts of investing in safe places to walk or ride; in fact, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s recently released report, “Active Transportation Transforms America,” found that the annual return on investment of connected active-transportation infrastructure could surpass $138 billion. Such impacts are what make active transportation investments so competitive.
USDOT showed they understand this impact by awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in BUILD grants to 24 projects that include a trail, walking or biking element. BUILD is one of the most competitive federal transportation grant programs in the nation—typically awarding grants to only around 5% of program applicants—and only communities that prove their projects will have the strongest possible positive impact receive awards. Of note for 2019: Typically about two to four trail or active-transportation-specific projects receive BUILD grants; however, this year, six projects specifically focused on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and trails received funding.
To understand the amount of BUILD funds that have gone to bicycle, pedestrian and trail projects, it helps to understand how these projects are categorized. The current administration lists awards in categories including: roads and bridges, transit, rail, ports and intermodal transportation. While active transportation and trail projects do not have their own category, our review shows that they have made a strong showing, with 24 of the 55 projects funded this year having some bicycle, pedestrian or trail element—and six trail-specific projects having received nearly $120 million total for development. These projects will have a major role in improving local and regional mobility and providing balanced transportation options for millions of people.
Awards include the following:
- $22.3 million to the Underline Multimodal Mobility Corridor Project in Miami, a 10-mile linear park and urban trail that’s part of RTC’s Miami LOOP TrailNation™ project and will have a huge impact on active transportation in the region. USDOT found that this project will improve economic competitiveness and quality of life by providing multimodal access to eight Metrorail stations and bus terminals and serve 8,600 trips per day.
- Nearly $21 million to the City of Springfield, Missouri, for the Grant Avenue Connect Parkway Project. This 3.3-mile multiuse bicycle and pedestrian path stretching from downtown Springfield to Sunshine Street will benefit Springfield’s economy through innovative pedestrian and bicycle designs that reduce the interactions of bicyclists and pedestrians with automobiles and improve access to local businesses.
- More than $14 million to the rural community of Gulf Shores, Alabama, for the Waterway Village Multimodal Access Project. In addition to a new lane of highway, this project includes a new pedestrian bridge over the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and constructs shared-use paths along State Highway 59 from 20th Avenue to County Road 4, as well as nearby bike lanes and sidewalks. This project will enhance quality of life and improve healthy living in a low-income rural community.
The full list of 2019 BUILD grantees includes several other projects that will greatly enhance safe opportunities for active transportation, biking and walking. These projects demonstrate the strong desire that so many communities have for investment in trails and other active transportation facilities.
While RTC has not analyzed the broader context of what this round of grants tells us about USDOT priorities across all modes, we take heart in knowing that, in this case, USDOT placed trail and active transportation networks alongside roads, bridges, ports, transit and rail and found that the benefits to the nation’s mobility, economy and quality of life stood out in many cases.