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Putting ABILITY in Eligibility

In the five years from 2007 to 2011, states spent 1.8 billion federal transportation dollars on bicycle and pedestrian projects from sources other than Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails – our “dedicated” sources.

There are two things to learn from that statement:

First, states spend federal transportation dollars. It’s federal money in the sense that it comes from the federal gas tax (and general funds) and that Congress authorizes and allocates the funds to the states. But, functionally, they have always been state and local dollars because those non-federal entities actually choose the projects. Except in rare cases, like TIGER and the earmarks of old, the federal government is not determining which projects are built in your community. Instead, it is the job of the states and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). Therefore, it is state and local advocacy that determines if agencies are using federal funds to develop a balanced transportation system or just build highways, highways, highways.

Second, the weakening of dedicated funding sources is a cause for concern, but it need not mean the end of federal funds directed towards bicycling and walking projects. Despite the need for dramatic improvement, states have made progress over the past twenty years in integrating bicycling and walking facilities in their planning, engineering, and funding processes. We now expect state DOTs to make full use of the new Transportation Alternatives programs AND make full use of the programs under which bicycling and walking projects are eligible.

That $1.8 billion mentioned above came from programs that still exist (with some changes) in the new transportation law, MAP-21; programs intended to improve congestion and air quality, safety, and general transportation infrastructure. They are called, in order, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), and the Surface Transportation Program (STP). The League and the Alliance for Biking and Walking have set up an entire program called Advocacy Advance dedicated to helping state and local advocates and agency staff tap into these sources – and it’s working.

Under MAP-21, implementing existing and new Complete Streets policies is important, maximizing the Transportation Alternatives program is important – and taking advantage of the full eligibility of bicycling and walking in programs like CMAQ, HSIP, and STP is more important than ever.

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