Update – July 2, 2020: Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2—the Moving Forward Act—which includes a game-changing transportation reauthorization bill that does much to elevate trails as essential community assets. This major win for active transportation includes nearly doubling down on dedicated investment for trails, walking and bicycling, and the inclusion, for the first time, of Active Transportation Connectivity Grants (see “New Investment in Connected Active Transportation Networks” below). Further, the bill focuses on important walk-bike safety innovations and the reduction of CO2 emissions through investments that promote increased walking and bicycling.
RTC will continue to closely follow the bill’s progress—as the focus shifts back to the Senate for debate. Learn more on our Trails Transform America web portal.
On June 3, 2020, the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee released the INVEST in America Act*, a new transportation reauthorization bill proposed to succeed the FAST Act—the current main federal law governing the funding of America’s transportation programs, including trails and other active transportation infrastructure—which is set to expire this September.
The bill tackles many of the most critical issues—including safety, climate and maintenance; however, there is room for more innovation, including an ongoing commitment to invest in connected active-transportation infrastructure, to make walking and bicycling safer, more equitable and more convenient for Americans.
Here’s how it breaks down.
Big Bump in Dedicated Funding for Trails
and Active Transportation
The bill would greatly increase the amount of dedicated funding for trails and active transportation—increasing the amount of funding by 75% for two programs that together comprise the largest sources of federal funding for trails and active transportation in the country: Transportation Alternatives (TA) and the Recreational Trails Program (RTP).
In further detail, it would also:
- Increase the percentage of TA funds going directly to local governments, and increase the flexibility of a local match requirement that currently exists
- Reestablish independent features of the Safe Routes to School program (the federal program that supports the national initiative aimed at making it safer and easier for students to walk and bike to school)
- Explicitly allow Surface Transportation Program funding to be used for development of Vision Zero plans (seeking to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries), which may include plans to develop active transportation networks
- Require states to develop vulnerable road-user safety assessments with strategies to address high-risk corridors for bicyclists and pedestrians
- Establish and fund a carbon-emission reduction program, which would fund projects expected to yield a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, including trails and active transportation
A Boost for America’s Economic Recovery
The COVID-19 pandemic has, among other things, shown how much people want and need to be outdoors. Trail use has surged as people have flocked to trails and other active transportation facilities to stay physically active and emotionally recharge—and Americans are recognizing the significant value of these vital resources to their own health and wellbeing and that of their communities.
The extremely high demand for trails brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the recognized disparities in trail access for many communities, are examples of the outsized demand and need for trails and active transportation that have existed for years. As America plans for, and moves toward, economic recovery in the coming months and years, the INVEST in America Act would support investments that help meet the growing demand for trails, while in turn supporting the country’s fastest growing economic sector.
Active transportation generates $34.1 billion in annual economic benefits, with the potential to deliver $138.5 billion each year as the connectivity of trails and active transportation routes improves.
Building active transportation facilities generates 17 jobs per million dollars spent—a ratio higher than for roads and other transportation projects because the work is more labor intensive. This investment also creates opportunities for mobility for the 20% to 40% of Americans who do not drive due to age, disability, income or choice.
New Investment in Connected Active Transportation Networks
The biggest game-changer of all in the bill is a new initiative designed to fund critical links between existing active-transportation facilities for the creation of safe, connected walking and biking networks in the form of Active Transportation Connectivity Grants—a program inspired by another current House Bill: the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act (H.R. 5696). These grants could concentrate tens of millions of dollars in a region to accelerate the completion of trail and active transportation networks—meeting surging demand for routes that make it safe and easy to walk, bike or roll to essential destinations like grocery stores, schools and jobs—and spines, which allow for active transportation connections between communities.
This new program reinforces the importance of investing in walking and bicycling routes that leverage existing infrastructure by creating functional networks, linking communities, and connecting people on foot or on bike to everyday destinations within cities and towns. This is exactly what our country needs to maximize the mobility and economic benefits derived from decades of building active transportation projects.
Unfortunately, the INVEST in America Act only funds this key innovation for FY 2024 and at $250 million; this is only half the annual level specified in H.R. 5696. Committing to this approach for all four years of the reauthorization period of the bill would go much further toward completing T&I Committee Chairman DeFazio’s admirable vision.
More than 170 national and state organizations are joining RTC in calling on Congress to take this opportunity to invest in connecting America’s trails and walking and biking infrastructure to create an active transportation system for the country.
As the House T&I Committee takes up this bill in the weeks to come, we call upon Chairman DeFazio and the members of the committee to fulfill the promise of the Connectivity Grants proposed in H.R. 5696 by funding the program for the full four-year period of the reauthorization.
This would enable many more communities meet the demand for safe networks for walking and biking, while fueling our economic recovery and addressing critical health disparities. If your member of Congress is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, please take action and write your representative today and ask him/her to support extending the Active Transportation Connectivity Grants over the full life of the reauthorization.
*Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act.