Equestrian Volunteers working on the Dolan Springs Trail System, Arizona
December 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of the law that created the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), one of the most important sources of funding for trail projects. Through all the years of competition for Federal dollars, the program has been continued helping States, volunteer groups, and project sponsors to improve our nationwide system of trails.
Since 1991, the RTP has provided more than $1 billion in Federal funding and has become the foundation for state trail programs across the country. It leverages hundreds of millions of dollars of additional support from other sources for trails, encourages productive cooperation among trail users, and facilitates healthy outdoor recreation and economic activity in countless communities.
RTP applies the “user-pay/user-benefit” philosophy of the Highway Trust Fund, returning federal tax on fuel used for nonhighway recreation to the states for trail projects. Program implementation is consistent in practice with other expenditures from the Highway Trust Fund. Although the gas tax supporting the Fund is paid primarily by gas-using vehicles, resources are shared with other users of recreational trails to develop a balanced system.
Project categories eligible for funding are many and varied, giving states the flexibility they need to administer state trail programs. State administrative and educational program costs are capped at 7% and 5% respectively. States are encouraged to work with qualified youth conservation or service corps.
Eligible types of projects include:
- maintenance and restoration of existing recreational trails;
-development and rehabilitation of trailside and trailhead facilities and trail linkages for recreational trails;
- purchase and lease of recreational trail construction and maintenance equipment;
- construction of new recreational trails (with specific requirements when federal land is involved);
- acquisition of easements and fee simple title for recreational trail corridors;
- and assessment of trail conditions.
Thirty percent of funds are to be spent for uses relating to motorized recreation; 30% are to be spent for uses relating to nonmotorized recreation. In addition, 40% are to be used for projects that facilitate diverse recreational trail use within a recreational trail corridor, trailside or trailhead.
After 25 years, RTP funding has grown to represent a larger portion of the total fuel taxes paid by nonhighway recreationists, although it is conservatively estimated that the RTP receives less than one-third of the total taxes paid annually by nonhighway recreationists. During Fiscal Year 2009, states received slightly more than $84 million in RTP funds, the same annual maximum approved under current federal funding authorization.
The Recreational Trails Program was created by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), reauthorized in 1998 as part of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and again in 2005 through the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).
The RTP was also included in the 2012 transportation-reauthorization bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). Most recently, the RTP was reauthorized as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which covers Fiscal Years 2016 through 2020 and was signed by the President on December 5, 2015.
As was the case under MAP-21, under the FAST Act, funds are to be allocated to the states in the same amounts and according to the same allocations that were in place in Fiscal Year 2009, the last year of SAFETEA-LU. At that time, the formula apportioned half of all funding to the states equally and the remaining 50% was apportioned among eligible states based upon nonhighway recreational fuel use in each of those states during the preceding year. There have been no adjustments to those allocations since 2009.
Each year the Coalition for Recreational Trails, a federation of national and regional trail-related organizations, sponsors an awards program to recognize outstanding trail projects funded by the RTP. The awards are presented in Washington, DC as part of the Coalition’s ongoing effort to build awareness and appreciation of this highly successful program.
For more information...
Visit the database of over 21,000 RTP-funded projects: www.recreationaltrailsinfo.org
See details of the RTP, including funding for each State: www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/recreational_trails
Annual awards from the Coalition for Recreational Trails: www.americantrails.org/awards/CRT-awards-by-state.html