MAP-21 and Parks and Recreation: Recent Surface Transportation Legislation Has Major Implications for Walking and Bicycling

By Tyahla, Dave | Parks & Recreation, September 2012 | Go to article overview

MAP-21 and Parks and Recreation: Recent Surface Transportation Legislation Has Major Implications for Walking and Bicycling


Tyahla, Dave, Parks & Recreation


THERE'S A NEW, TWO-YEAR FEDERAL SURFACE TRANSPORTATION LAW in town (Moving Ahead [or Progress in the 21st Century-MAP-2]), and, as expected, major policy changes with regard to funding for walking and bicycling are coming down the pike, so to speak.

We'd be dishonest if we didn't share our genuine surprise that the U.S. Congress, in an increasingly rare showing of cooperation and sheer legislative will, was able to successfully pass a new two-year Surface Transportation Act (MAP-21) in late June. We also would be remiss if we didn't express our strong disappointment in the way the late-hour, backroom negotiations with the House mangled what was a carefully crafted, overwhelmingly bipartisan Senate approved bill. However, at the end of the day, MAP-21 was signed into law by the President in early July and is the federal transportation program we must live with for the next two years.

MAP-21 contains 600-plus pages, but for our purposes, there are some key things to know. Specifically, how does MAP-21 impact existing federal support for walking and bicycling? The two biggest changes are:

* Combining/Streamlining of Existing Programs; and,

* Less Funding and More Competition.

Under the previous law, popular programs such as Transportation Enhancements (TE), Safe Routes to Schools, and the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) were funded as stand-alone programs, which mean they each received dedicated annual funding. MAP-21 eliminates these standalone programs and creates a new funding category called Transportation Alternatives (TA). TE, Safe Routes to Schools, and RTP projects are now rolled into the TA category within MAP-21. However, many other projects, including expansive environmental mitigation and limited road construction projects, are also included under TA and will now compete for these same funds. The problem is that funding for TE, Safe Routes to School, and RTP has historically totaled approximately $1.2 billion per year. MAP-21 cuts overall funding for the consolidated Transportation Alternatives category by a third, so that only approximately $800 million will be annually available. While programs such as TE and Safe Routes to School remain eligible for funding, they must now compete against each other as well as a multitude of other programs for much less money.

Transportation Alternatives funds will be distributed to the states where the state departments of transportation (DOT) will sub-allocate 50 percent directly to larger metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs, pop. 200,000-plus) to distribute them locally via a competitive grant process. MPOs of less than 200,000 people compete for the rest of these TA funds through a state-managed competitive grant process.

The state retains discretion over the types of projects it will fund with the remaining TA funds. A major concern is that while the state could choose to allocate some or all of these remaining funds for bike and pedestrian projects, it is authorized to use the funding for any other transportation purpose--meaning states may "opt-out" of using 50 percent of their remaining TA funding for projects such as trails and bike paths or to enhance biker and walker safety. This was a hot-button issue during the debate of the bill, and since its enactment, various Members of Congress have stressed that states will have discretion over the use of 50 percent of the TA funds. The language for this particular section of the bill, however, makes it difficult to determine whether that is, indeed, what was written and ultimately enacted into law. …

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