OLR Research Report

October 1, 2003 98-R-0010


FROM: James J. Fazzalaro, Principal Analyst

RE: Federal Transportation Funds for Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities

You asked for information on federal transportation funding available for bicycling and pedestrian facilities and how a local bicycling group interested in making use of these funds might proceed.


The question you asked is difficult to answer definitively at the present time because the federal law that provides most of these funds, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) expired on September 30, 1997. While Congress passed a six-month temporary funding extension based on the expired law, it remains unclear whether the legislation that will emerge in the next several months will include all of the expired law's elements. This response addresses funding under the expired law and the temporary extension, but it may not reflect the future process should these programs undergo significant revision in the pending legislation.

ISTEA provided the first significant federal transportation funding that could be made available for alternate transportation forms such as bicycling and pedestrian walkways. In the six years of ISTEA, more than $1 billion has been directed to bicycle and pedestrian projects compared to less than $42 million in the 18 years before its enactment. Funding comes in three general areas: (1) for bicycle and pedestrian facilities that may be an adjunct to larger projects under the major transportation funding categories; (2) as independent projects undertaken (a) with a special funding set-aside for “transportation enhancements” or (b) under an ISTEA program directed toward projects that promote compliance with the Clean Air Act; and (3) as recreational trail facilities under the National Recreational Trails Act.

There is substantial competition for available funding. The project selection process primarily involves local and regional bodies who screen numerous proposals and decide which should be included in the regional transportation plan submitted for endorsement by the state. Recreational trail projects must also meet other criteria. While the process is complex, both the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Environmental Protection have program coordinators who assist interested parties in understanding and participating in the process.


Federal funding for alternate forms of transportation such as bicycle and pedestrian facilities made a major departure from previous support levels with the passage of ISTEA. In the 18 years before ISTEA's enactment (1973-91), only about $40.7 million in federal funding was spent on bicycle and pedestrian facilities under the various federal transportation funding categories. But with the Interstate Highway System nearing completion, Congress redirected some of the federal programs to assist alternate forms of transportation that might help alleviate urban congestion.

Support through ISTEA comes within two broad areas: (1) making bicycle and pedestrian facilities eligible for funding in many of the basic categorical grant programs areas and (2) creation of a separate funding program under the National Recreational Trails Act, a separate title of ISTEA generally known as the Symms Act. The two areas have different objectives, restrictions, and procedures for accessing funding.

Funding Through ISTEA's Transportation Programs

ISTEA created greater access to federal transportation funding by (1) making bicycle and pedestrian facilities generally eligible for federal transportation money allocated to the major program areas and (2) requiring that a specific portion of some allocations be reserved for “transportation enhancement” projects. Bicycle and pedestrian facilities were one of 10 activities considered as transportation enhancements. Some others include: (1) acquiring scenic easements and historic sites, (2) landscaping and scenic beautification activities, (3) historic preservation, (4) rehabilitating and operating historic transportation facilities, (5) controlling and removing outdoor advertising, (6) archaeological planning and research, and (7) preserving abandoned railway corridors (including their conversion to pedestrian or bicycle trails).

Funding Through the Categorical Programs. Theoretically, almost all federal transportation funding under ISTEA could be used for bicycle and pedestrian facilities, but realistically, almost all ISTEA-funded bicycle and pedestrian facilities have come through the transportation enhancements set aside under the Surface Transportation Program and, to a lesser extent, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Program.

With respect to the programs other than Transportation Enhancements and CMAQ, such as the National Highway System, Bridge, and general STP (the “core” STP allocations outside of the enhancements set aside) bicycle and pedestrian facilities may be designed as part of other eligible projects or built adjacent to them. Also, the bicycle facilities or pedestrian walkways must be principally for transportation rather than recreational uses. The transportation purposes restriction is also true for facilities built under the CMAQ program. With minor exceptions, no motorized vehicles may use bicycle and pedestrian facilities funded under these programs.

The transportation enhancements set aside is by far the most important source of federal funds for bicycle facilities. In the first five years of ISTEA (FYs 1992-96), a total of $1.183 billion was programmed or obligated for bicycle, pedestrian, and trail facilities and 86% of this amount, or $1.018 billion was under the transportation enhancements program. The following National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse chart breaks down this information into the various program components.

Bicycle and pedestrian facilities represented approximately $741 million, or 38% of the total of $1.9 billion in transportation enhancement apportionments made under ISTEA through October 1996. Preserving abandoned rail roadways for possible use as trail facilities represented another $278 million, or 14%, of the total allotted for enhancements total (see accompanying figures). Bicycle and trail related projects also represent the majority of transportation enhancement project awards made during these six years. According to information compiled by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, 6,725 project awards were made under the enhancement category through October 1996. Of these, 2,889, or 43%, were for bicycle or pedestrian facilities and 758, or 11%, were for rail-trail projects.

A significant portion of funding available through the transportation enhancements program has still to be committed, or obligated. This is because states have four years to obligate funds
apportioned to them in each fiscal year before they lapse. Through September 1996, only 64% of the total enhancement apportionments available nationally had been obligated and 17 states had obligated less than half of their available funding. Connecticut has been considerably more committed to spending its enhancement money, being one of only eight states that has obligated more than 90% of its apportioned funds. (Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Transportation Enhancement Financial Summary, October 1, 1996).

Funding Through National Recreational Trails Act (NRTA).While technically also part of ISTEA, the Symms Act funding is set up for a different purpose and does not apply only to bicycle facilities. Originally, the national trails program was to be funded through a trust fund with a total annual authorization of $30 million, but Congress failed to provide contract authority for the program. This meant that the program had to get a specific annual appropriation in order to function. Congress provided it with no appropriation in FY 1991-92, only $7.5 million in FY 1992-93, and no appropriation again in either of the next two fiscal years (FY 1993-95), so funding has been slow in reaching the states. The program was modified by the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 by providing $15 million in FY 1995-96 and again in FY 1996-97 and contract authority through FHWA administrative funds instead of through the trails trust fund. Connecticut's funding allocations were $96,819 in FY 1992-93, $182,807 in FY 1995-96, and $181,197 in FY 1996-97 for a total of $460,823.

Once allocated, the funds remain available for obligation until they are spent. But while a state does not lose its allocation, its obligation limitation is available only for its current fiscal year. If a state cannot obligate its full allocation, it returns it to FHWA by August 1 and FHWA reallocates the current year's obligation limit to other states that can use the extra obligation authority for other FHWA -funded transportation projects. To the extent Congress funds the program each year, the returned allocations are redistributed the following year. But if a state neither obligates nor turns back its funding, the obligation limitation lapses. The temporary funding extension legislation passed by Congress in November provided partial funding for the trails program for FY 1997-98. Connecticut's allocation was $89,749.

To be eligible for NRTA funds, a state must have a recreational trail advisory board that includes representatives of both motorized and nonmotorized trail users. Half of available funds are allocated to each eligible state equally and the other half is distributed in direct proportion to each eligible state's proportion of non-highway recreational fuel use.

A state must use a minimum of 30% of its NFTA money on trails that benefit nonmotorized uses, a minimum of 30% on trails that benefit motorized uses, and 40% of its funding on trails for diversified uses. This last category includes diverse motorized use, diverse nonmotorized use, and joint use by both types of users, so expenditures within the 40% diverse use category may overlap with one of the other two categories.

Funds may be used for a variety of activities including developing urban trails; maintaining existing trails, including grooming and maintaining snow trails; restoring areas damaged by trail use; developing trailside and trailhead facilities; providing features that facilitate trail access and use by those with disabilities; acquiring trail easements; acquiring property from willing sellers; and constructing and maintaining new trails.


Project Selection

The process for accessing NRTA funds is different than for other ISTEA bicycle funding, but there are some similarities. The processes are somewhat involved and the descriptions in this report have been greatly simplified. ISTEA requires each state to have someone with responsibility to coordinate these processes at the state level and the names of the state personnel with these responsibilities are included at the end of this section. Someone interested in proposing a project would be well advised to contract the person appropriate for the type of project he has in mind and this coordinator can provide him with more specific information. For those with Internet access, there is also considerable detailed information available in several locations. One of the most useful is the FHWA Program Areas website at

Project selection does not begin at the state level under either program. There is a considerable amount of competition for available funding with more projects proposed at the local level than can usually be funded. Both programs have a process for screening and selecting projects before they are submitted to the state for funding. Trail projects selected for funding must be consistent with the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan required under the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund Act.

The primary selection body for bicycle and pedestrian projects is the metropolitan planning organization (MPO). Individuals and organizations interested in advancing a project using these federal funds must first propose them through the local government representatives on the MPO. These regional governmental bodies then screen and select projects. They consult with the Connecticut Department of Transportation to determine eligibility, funding availability, and project priority. Projects must then be included in the region's Transportation Improvement Program and in the State Transportation Improvement Program.

Projects are funded on a reimbursement not a grant basis. This is important for any project sponsor to understand in that once a project is approved for funding, the money comes as a reimbursement for costs incurred, not as a grant given ahead of time. Federal funds can be used for up to 80% of eligible project costs. Frequently, the local government or project sponsor may have to provide some or all of the nonfederal share, depending on the project's scope and priority.

Symms Act funds for recreational trails must involve the state Recreational Trail Advisory Board which, under the federal law, must exist to promote and encourage consensus among diverse trail users. Federal funds for trail projects under NRTA usually do not exceed 50% of project costs, which means that most project sponsors should be prepared to try and identify additional funding sources as part of a project proposal. The determination of where the nonfederal share of funds may come from is made by the state agency making the final decision on trail projects.

State Coordinators

State program coordinators who should be contacted for more specific information by those interested in pursuing federal funding for bicycle and trail projects are:

Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Coordinator—Wayne DeCarli, Connecticut DOT, (860) 594-2145

Transportation Enhancement Projects—Meribeth Demma, Connecticut DOT, (860) 594-2134

Scenic Byways Program—James Stotler, Connecticut DOT, (860) 594-2612

Recreational Trails—Joseph Hickey, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, (860) 424-3202


As noted previously, the information and procedures in this report are based on the provisions of the expired ISTEA and the six-month temporary extension legislation. Congress will be taking up the full multi-year reauthorization bill early this year, but there is no clear indication if these programs will remain as they have been set up. Several program areas such as CMAQ have been targeted for change and one amendment has reportedly been filed that would eliminate the transportation enhancements program entirely. Pro bicycling interest groups have engaged in significant lobbying to retain and even expand the programs supporting alternate forms of transportation but other interest groups opposing these programs and wanting future funding redirected to more traditional types of transportation have been active as well. Based on the current lack of a consensus on some of these issues, it should not be assumed at this time that these programs will be unchanged in future years. These changes may provide more assistance or less.