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This may be the most important year ever to get Members of Congress to a trail ride or hike, a volunteer project, or National Trails Day event.
By Stuart Macdonald
American Trails Magazine and website editor
We are looking at the very real possibility that the Recreational Trails Program will disappear by the end of this year. As you know, the surface transportation act expires this year and reauthorization is the next step. Rep. James Oberstar, Chair of the 75-member House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is planning on a draft of the new funding bill by May.
One problem is that the 18.4 cent per gallon federal fuel tax has not been raised since 1994. An $8 billion deficit had to be filled by Congress in 2009 and a similar shortfall is expected next year. With more fuel-efficient vehicles and declining miles driven, the crisis will continue. There is a lot of discussion about possible solutions, all of which mean somebody, and probably everybody, is going to pay more. With the political complexity of the problem, and the flow of "recovery" billions, Congress may extend reauthorization to 2010.
What happens to the programs like RTP, Enhancements, and CMAQ? Well, they're not going to be in the next "TEA" bill unless a Member of Congress writes them in. As Oberstar stated, "we have been judging the usefulness of SAFETEA-LU and the new bill can't be business as usual."
The trouble with RTP, observed American Recreation Coalition head Derrick Crandall, is that "it's very broad and very thin." While trails money touches every Congressional District in America it doesn't inspire the same urgency as falling bridges and homeless mothers. Even though the new bill is targeted at $500 billion-- a 75 percent increase over SAFETEA-LU-- trails may not be part of the plan. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has expressed support for "livability" programs, but would trails be able to compete for funds as part of a new consolidation of many such programs?
What will happen in your state if RTP disappears? Now is the time to think about it. And even more vital is to get the thousands of trails advocates and project sponsors to think about it. This may be the most important year ever to get Members of Congress to a trail ride or hike, a volunteer project, or National Trails Day event. The Coalition for Recreational Trails has led the charge for RTP for years and is working to identify "champions" for trails in Congress.
For more information see the Reauthorization of Federal Transportation Funding page at www.AmericanTrails.org/reauth.html
The Coalition for Recreational Trails needs your help to ensure the Recreational Trails Program is included in the next authorization. Visit our Recreational Trails Program page to sign on to a letter in support of preserving and growing this program, and visit our on reauthorization of transportation funding area to learn more about these vital programs.
-- Stuart Macdonald, Editor, American Trails Magazine
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