Is New York State’s Federal Trails Funding in Jeopardy?

[A previous version of this article stated that New York State was considering opting out of the Recreational Trails Program, which was eliminated under MAP-21. In fact, RTP was merged into Transportation Alternatives funding under MAP-21, but recreational trails funding remains an explicit set-aside underneath the TA umbrella].

Yesterday, Parks & Trails New York warned that New York State may already be considering opting out of some federal funding for recreational trails, instead transferring that money into a more general section of the “Transportation Alternatives” (TA) program (TA funds can be used on a variety of bicycle- and pedestrian-oriented projects, among other things). Unfortunately, if the funds set aside for recreational trails are merged into the larger TA program, up to 50% of this transferred money could be diverted to non-bicycle/pedestrian projects. This means that, in the event that New York State opts out, it could take up to half of the recreational trails money and spend it on things like new roads; if the state does not opt out, all of the trails funds would go to trails projects.

While New York State considers its next move, Parks & Trails New York has identified several reasons why it should not opt out of trails funding:

  • Eliminating RTP would make it almost impossible for small, community-oriented trail projects and snowmobile and hiking trails located in our communities and in our state and local parks to receive funding.
  • RTP funds must be dedicated to trails programs. When added to Transportation Alternatives funds, New York State can choose to transfer HALF of its Transportation Alternatives funds to road building.
  • Transportation Alternatives funds will be used for large-scale, transportation-related trail projects as well as road-related construction, not small-scale local recreational trails – the kind of projects specifically funded by RTP.
  • Projects funded with Transportation Alternatives monies are subject to the same standards applied to the construction of federal-aid highways – a real burden for small local governments and non-profit organizations if the total dollar value of the project is small.
  • RTP is the only program that makes funds available to acquire equipment and maintain trails, something that is critical to preserving and continuing our investment in public recreation.
  • Nonprofits can apply for RTP but cannot apply for Transportation Alternatives funding.

The state should not transfer the recreational trails funds, especially given its strong support for complete streets and trails projects in the past. To take action, just fill out a form on the Parks & Trails Website, and they will send a postcard to Governor Cuomo on your behalf.

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