More States Are Looting Federal Funds for Walking and Biking

States are diverting their share of federal funding intended for walking and biking projects, and spending it on roads.
States are diverting their share of federal funding intended for walking and biking projects, and spending it on roads. Photo: woodleywonderworks/Flickr

Every year the federal government disperses a sliver of its transportation funds — about $800 million, or less than 2 percent of the total — to states expressly to support walking and biking. The states then distribute the funding to cities and towns to spend on specific projects and programs.

But there’s a loophole, created at the insistence of congressional Republicans, that allows states to divert up to half the funding from this program, known as Transportation Alternatives, to car infrastructure. And a growing number of states are opting to take Transportation Alternatives money and spend it on roads, says Margo Pedroso of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.

Some states — including Texas, Oklahoma, and Georgia — have always diverted the maximum. But the majority have recognized the value of walking and biking and used most or all of their Transportation Alternatives money for its intended purpose. Now that shows signs of changing.

In the third quarter of 2016, ten states diverted TA funds for the first time: New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. New York has transferred $37 million out of the program; Maryland, $11 million; New Jersey, $7 million.

Even though Transportation Alternatives funding is small compared to the tens of billions of dollars in annual federal road funding, it can go a long way for cost-effective bike and pedestrian projects. In the last four years, Alabama has received $61 million for biking and walking projects thanks to the Transportation Alternatives program. “That’s a lot of money for Alabama for walking and biking,” said Pedroso.

TA funding allowed the town of Prattville, Alabama, to build sidewalks around Prattville Elementary, a school in a low-income area, so children could safely walk to school. It also provided a grant to complete the Eastern Shore Trail in Baldwin County. Shifting this money around can doom or delay walking or biking infrastructure.

In some cases, there may be a reasonable explanation. Ohio, for example, transfers 10 percent of its funds every year to a separate program thats allow smaller metro regions to compete for the funding. Nevertheless, says Pedroso, the recent shift is alarming.

“I think it’s important for the people in the states being affected to contact the DOT and find out what’s going on,” she said.

Advocates in some states have successfully fought attempts to loot TA funds. Pedroso says motivated New Jersey advocates were able to convince the state DOT to reverse its decision to divert money.

Below is a chart of all the states that have diverted TA money since the loophole took effect in 2013. If you want to get a clear picture of what your state is doing with these funds, you can email Pedroso at margo [at] saferoutespartnership [dot] org.

Source: Safe Routes to School National Partnership
Source: Safe Routes to School National Partnership
  • Jesse276

    The places that need it most, transfer the most out of the program.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Sign of fiscal stress in NY, with urban areas and younger generations as the initial target.

  • ohnonononono

    Shameful.

  • StefanieA

    It’s a bit over-the-top to say that all this money goes to “car infrastructure,” especially if you’re not reporting on the programs that received the funds or any specific projects that are getting a boost from that money.

    There are four potential programmatic reallocation options, none of which are restricted to car-only improvements.

    1) The National Highway Performance Program, which covers all roads within the National Highway System: After MAP-21, almost all urban arterials are now on the NHS. FHWA has changed its design requirements so that NHS routes in urban areas are not beholden to the same requirements as actual highways. NHS projects have to take into account all modes of transportation, per the FAST Act. If funds were diverted here for reconstruction of urban arterials, that’s a potential win for people walking and biking.

    2) Surface Transportation Program: STP is used for all kinds of projects, including bike/walk elements of larger projects or bike/walk only projects.

    3) Highway Safety Improvement Program: HSIP is a *great* source of funds for bike/walk infrastructure and Vision Zero efforts.

    4) Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality Improvement Program: CMAQ has funded bike projects for years.

  • AlTate

    Good points and, after all, bikes use roads as well.

  • Vooch

    protected bike lanes

    is

    what

    people

    need

  • StefanieA

    …And they can be funded through STP, CMAQ, and NHPP. (Not sure about HSIP.)

  • Vooch

    A city can self fund a entire network of protected bike lanes by simply delaying 1 road expansion project for 5 years.

    hundreds of miles of protected bike lanes can be built instead of expanding a couple of highway off ramps.

  • Good point but when you consider how much money the road already gets otherwise, it is preposterous that this sliver not be strictly protected.

  • And why do we have all these programs . Why not roads, bike and peds, transit, rail , air. This is all so complicated, especially for local groups trying to tap in these funds.

  • neroden

    We have to get rid of Emperor Cuomo, who is coasting on his name recognition. Helpfully, he’s made a huge number of powerful enemies due to his arrogant and *ill-informed* behavior.

    Basically anyone who replaces him will behave better.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Funds for Walking and Biking Under Attack in Congress This Week

|
Funds for walking and biking infrastructure account for a tiny portion of federal transportation spending. Safer streets don’t cost much, though, so for the cities and towns that count on these programs, a few dollars from the feds can be a huge help. Despite the relatively small sums at play, walking and biking programs are a constant […]

Wisconsin Pilfers From the Scraps Earmarked For Walking and Biking

|
About $830 million in federal funds are set aside each year for walking and biking. That’s less than 2 percent of total federal transportation spending. Even this small provision of dedicated funds has been watered down by the GOP-controlled Congress. The current federal transportation law allows states to transfer half their allocation of ped/bike funds to general road projects. Plenty of states choose to spend […]

FHWA Helps Cities and Towns Land Bike/Ped Funding

|
American cities and towns should get a leg up on using federal funds to make streets safer for biking and walking, thanks to rules enacted yesterday by the Federal Highway Administration. MAP-21, the current transportation law, was passed hurriedly enough that not all the i’s could be dotted and t’s could be crossed — and […]

States Already Licking Their Chops Over Newly “Flexible” Bike/Ped Funds

|
Just days after Congress passed a bill allowing states to spend funds supposedly designated for biking and walking on completely unrelated projects, transportation officials are already circling like vultures over that money. An AP story from Covington, Kentucky on Sunday quotes several transportation officials and executives parroting the GOP line that transportation enhancements funding, as that […]