Latest Round of Federal BUILD Grants Underscores Value of Active Transportation and Need for Investment

Posted 09/25/20 by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Policy

Kiwanis Trail in Billings, Montana | Photo by Kristi Drake

Earlier this month, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced its latest round of grant awards in the highly competitive BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Developments) grant program. This year, a significant portion of the total funded projects, representing more than $300 million, include active transportation elements that will help ensure safe and connected infrastructure for people to walk and bike around the country.

Under Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, the BUILD program has continued as USDOT’s means of funding important transportation projects that would otherwise lack sufficient funding from other sources. Altogether, 28 of the 70 projects receiving BUILD grant funds this year incorporate infrastructure for walking and bicycling, demonstrating that communities recognize the benefits of connected active-transportation infrastructure, and that many applicants find it critical to incorporate this infrastructure into other projects to make them more competitive for grant funding and address community demand.

Related: USDOT Awards Over $120 Million to Benefit Trails and Active Transportation Around the Nation

These awards reflect the growing awareness of the massive benefits that can come from investing in trails and active transportation systems. In the United States, half of all trips can be made within a 20-minute bike ride, and over a quarter can be made within a 20-minute walk. Communities can transform the way we travel by making these trips safer for people who choose to get around by modes other than cars, while bolstering the health of residents and their economies, and improving cleanliness of their air quality and environments. As RTC found in our recent report, “Active Transportation Transforms America,” the annual return on investment of connected active-transportation infrastructure could surpass $138 billion.

Many of the projects that received BUILD grants this year demonstrate the strong benefits that trails and active transportation infrastructure can bring to communities, including:

Many of the projects funded in this round will greatly enhance safe opportunities for active transportation, biking and walking. Access a full list of projects on the DDOT website.

Connecting America’s Active Transportation System

Metropolitan Branch Trail in Washington, D.C. | Photo by India Kea
Metropolitan Branch Trail in Washington, D.C. | Photo by India Kea

While the BUILD program will do much to help complete critical active transportation projects, the funding provided through BUILD is insufficient to address the overall demand for investment in active transportation networks and spines around the United States. Furthermore, the focus for funding tends to be on active transportation elements, but not on overall network connectivity.

Project applications incorporating trails and active transportation are competitive; however, only about 5% of the communities that apply for BUILD grants receive funding—and trail and active transportation projects applying for funding must compete against massive projects involving highways, ports and railroad infrastructure. Additionally, USDOT did not provide any grants this year to projects that focus solely on active transportation infrastructure.

Over the past several months, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has been collecting examples of planned trail and active transportation networks from communities around the country, identifying 73 projects alone that call for a combined total of $7.5 billion for their full benefits to be realized.

The proposed Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act (H.R. 5696/S. 3391) would take the country much further to meeting this demand by dedicating $500 million toward connected trail and active transportation networks and spines over the course of five years, a total of $2.5 billion. Like BUILD, these connectivity grants would leverage millions of dollars in local investments and turbo boost local efforts to enhance opportunities for safe walking and biking.

As this round of BUILD funding continues to demonstrate, dedicated investment in active transportation networks and spines is critical to help communities build the safe places for walking and bicycling that people need.

Learn more about the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act—and how you can help support this visionary bill—on the Trails Transform America web portal.

Related: Four Bills Introduced in Congress Could Mean $2 Billion Annually for Trails, Walking and Biking
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