Alabama preserves Recreational Trail funding
One compromise in the MAP-21 bill allowed for Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancement funds (popular programs used to build sidewalk and greenways infrastructure) to remain, but they were combined into the new category of Transportation Alternatives. State governments were also given the freedom to divert up to half of these funds to more traditional road projects, which would greatly reduce the money available for local governments to enhance their communities.
Although RTP funds are separate from Transportation Alternative funds, the decision to continue using the money to fund infrastructure and facility improvements indicates state officials recognize the popularity of these programs with citizens and the importance of building trails to connect them with nature and encourage active lifestyles.
Forty-eight states (Florida and Kansas opted out of the program) made the decision to use the money for popular off-road infrastructure. In Alabama, RTP funds have helped to build and enhance facilities such as the Chief Ladiga Trail, the Historic Springville Trail, and the Marion Historic Trail. In addition to funding trail construction, RTP has aided in providing benches, lighting, and restrooms to existing facilities throughout the state.
The RTP funds consist of a portion of the fuel tax for non-highway automobiles. Funding for each state will be based on 2009 appropriations, which means that Alabama will receive just under $1.75 million.
The decision to retain RTP funding comes at a time when the state is looking at ways to spend over $51 million in unspent federal dollars that have been unearmarked for immediate use. Organizations such as the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham are working to ensure active transportation projects that have been allocated funding, such as a pedestrian bridge in Vestavia Hills, a sidewalk and streetscape project in Midfield, and a project to improve access to Ebeneezer Swamp in Montevallo are not neglected in favor of simply building more roads.
Retaining Recreational Trails funding is a positive step for Alabama communities. Ensuring similar bicycle and pedestrian projects are built with the future influx of unearmarked federal funds will continue the progress to a healthier, more sustainable state.