History of Rails to Trails
By Ray Porter
(The Hoosier Rails to Trails Council thanks Ray Porter and his IUPUI Professor Philip Roth for their interest the National Rail to Trails subject)
[HRTC also thanks for Ray Porter allowing Richard Vonnegut to make some edits.]
From 1945 to the early 1960’s America went through a time of great transformation and change. In 1945 the U.S. and the Allied Powers fresh off from beating the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan in World War II set off to remake the world. The GI Bill put former American soldiers to college, providing economic opportunities for the future in the form of jobs. The economy finally took off after years of economic downturn brought on by the Great Depression. The Depression only ended thanks to the stimulus of spending for one of the greatest wars in world history. Due to America’s new found wealth, housing developments, called subdivisions, were being built in areas outside major cities across the country. In the 1950’s these areas would become known as suburbs. Up until this point Americans had either congregated and lived in urban areas or had lived on farms in rural areas. As a result of this wealth there was a baby boom with over 78 million kids being born during that time period (Interstate, 11).
New technological advancements during this era brought on the belief that technology could cure all of society’s ills. Bugs could be warded off by bug spray, interstate highway systems could better connect different cities around the country and pesticides could stop bugs from eating crops of vegetables. The interstate highway system was created and signed into law
[during 1956] by President Eisenhower.
This legislation was brought into effect since there was heavy use of automobiles in America and smaller national highways had been successful. Interstates were being built across the country during the 1950’s and 60’s. People thought the interstate highway system would launch America into the future and better connect American cities with one another. The interstate highway system in fact did this but with new technology comes problems that are unforeseen. With the interstate highway system came urban sprawl, pollution, and a dependence on oil that would later come back to bite America. This backdrop sets the stage for the formation of the Rails to Trails Program (Interstate, 11).
Mr. Morris [“Mo”]Udall was a Congressman for Arizona’s 2nd district in the House of Representatives from 1961 to 1991. During this time he helped push legislation through Congress that helped protect Native Americans and the environment. He also authored significant legislation on campaign reform and congressional ethics. Mo. Udall was the first major Democrat to publically oppose President Johnson on the Vietnam War. In 1976 he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination but was roundly beaten by the eventual President Jimmy Carter. Mr. Udall was known for his sense of humor, civility and for working across partisan lines something that today’s congressman are not known for in the slightest. As a matter of fact one of Mo. Udall’s closest friends was Barry Goldwater a staunch conservative. Goldwater was at the time ostracized by Democrats for his extreme conservative beliefs so it speaks to Udall’s bipartisanship and character that he could be such close friends with Goldwater. In essence Mr. Udall was a forward thinker. It is Udall’s forward thinking that would play a key part in future legislation that would bring about the National Trails System Act a precursor for the Rails to Trails Program (Morris, 13).
Mr. Stewart Udall [older brother to Mo Udall] served as a representative for Arizona in the House of Representatives from 1954 to 1960. He was seated among committees that dealt with some of the nation’s most pressing issues and also was important for rallying support to John Kennedy, in his presidential run, from Arizona’s Democrats. Once Kennedy beat Richard Nixon to become president he rewarded Udall by appointing him Secretary of the Interior. This is a job that Udall would not relinquish until 1969. Stewart Udall was also a big proponent for solar energy during the energy crisis, and thought solar energy could wean us away from our dependency on foreign oil. Clearly Stuart Udall was just as much a forward thinker as his brother. Udall’s job as Secretary of the Interior would play a big part in the formation of the National Trails System Act (Stewart, 14).
As people were becoming discouraged by the extent of urban sprawl and pollution brought on by the interstate highway system and factories across the U.S. and population grew an excited nation looked for new opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. In 1958 Congress brought forth the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC) to have a nationwide study on outdoor recreation needs. The 1960 survey completed for the ORRRC showed that 90 % of all Americans participated in some form of outdoor activities and those outdoor activities ranked second among all recreation activities. In 1965 President Johnson gave a speech that called for the nation (Congress) to create trails in all parts of the country that mirrored the great Appalachian Trail. He also called to make full use of rights-of-way and other public paths as well. Three years later Congress, spurred along by Morris Udall and the Johnson administration [ and the Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall], would pass the National Trails System Act (Act, 7).
The National Trail Systems Act was passed into law on October 2nd, 1968. The Act and its following amendments authorized a national system of trails and defined four categories of national trails. The original act included the Appalachian National Scenic Trail along the Appalachian Mountains stretching 2,160 miles from Mount Katahdin, Maine to Springer Mountain, Georgia. It also included the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail along the Sierra Nevada mountain range which stretched 2,665 miles from Canada to Mexico. The Act has now grown to include 20 national trails coast to coast. The mileage of all the trails totals over 40,000 miles (Act, 7).
The four categories of National Trails include National Scenic Trails, National Historic Trails, National Recreation Trails, and Connecting or Side trails. National Scenic Trails provide outdoor recreation and enjoyment of important scenic, historic, natural, or cultural sites. National Historic Trails are trails that go alongside travel routes of historical national significance. National Recreational Trails are accessible to urban areas on federal, state, or private lands. Connecting trails, otherwise known as side trails, provide access to the other classes of trails.
Out of these 4 categories of trails only National Scenic and National Historic Trails are designated national trails by Congress. The National Recreational Trails and connecting or side trails are designated by the Secretary of the Interior and Agriculture with of course the approval of the federal agency, state, or political subdivisions over the lands used for each trail. These Secretaries are allowed to purchase lands for the National Trails System through written cooperative agreements, through donations, and by purchase with assigned funds. The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture are required to unite and encourage states to set aside non-federal trail lands with private organizations and landowners through cooperative agreements. This way the states and local government get the rights-of-way and ownership of the land to develop it in a way they see fit (Act, 7).
Under the National Trails System Act each national trail land area, as mentioned above, is administered by the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture. The National Park Service administers 15 of the 20 national trails, the Forest Service looks after another four of these trails and the Bureau of Land Management administers the final trail. The use of motorized vehicles on National Scenic Trails is generally prohibited except on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. This trail allows for motorized vehicles under the following conditions: access for emergencies, fair access for nearby landowners, and for landowner use as agreed upon by regulations by the ruling Secretary.
National Historic Trails qualify as historic trails based on the following criteria. The route must have documented historical significance because of its use or location, there must be evidence of the trails national significance in the confines of American history, and finally the trail must have a huge potential for public recreational use and historical interest. National Historic Trails do not have to be continuous, and can even include land and water segments, marked highways going alongside the route, and sites that form a chain along the trail as well. National Recreational Trails are overall administered by the National Park Service; however recreational trails in national forests are also administered by the Forest Service.
National Recreational Trails also provide recreational opportunity for the handicapped, hikers, bicyclists, cross country skiers and horseback riders. Side or connecting trails are administered by the Secretary of the Interior, except that the Secretary of Agriculture looks after trails on national forest lands (Act, 7).
The biggest issue with the National Trails System Act over time continues to be funding. With the exception of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails the Act does not provide for sustained funding of assigned trail operations, and does not provide for maintenance and development as well. Instead the trails are financed by the National Recreational Fund Act which is set up TEA-21 (Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century) which is a six year extension of ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991). These are transportation laws packages passed from Congress that I will get to later in the paper.
Another issue with the National Trails System Act is the appropriate amount of trails. In other words how many national trails can we have and properly maintain at the same time. Some trail supporters have called for nationwide promotion to inform the American public about the National Trails System. They believe that outside the Appalachian Trail, not many Americans know about the Trails System and its breathtaking scenery. They say that if six new long-distance trails considered in a previous Congress had been added to the National Trail System the trails system would extend to every state but Rhode Island. While it is significant to connect every state with trails and easy to add new trails to the System, it is harder to allocate staffing and partnership resources from the government (Act, 7).
In 1987 the National Trails System Act would be amended to include the Interim Trail Use amendment. In legislative language this amendment is referred to as 16 USC Ch. 27 Sec. 1247 (d). The 16 USC stands for the Congressional code for Conservation manners. Ch. 27 denotes a chapter from the Congressional code, which in this case is the National Trails System Act. Section 1247 denotes a section of the National Trails System Act, which tells about the requirements for state and local area recreation and historic trails. The (d) of course indicates the Interim Trail Use amendment that was added to Section 1247. The Interim Trail Use amendment changed the National Trails System Act, paving the way for the Rails to Trails Program (Ch. 27, 18).
Eleven sections comprise to the National Trails System Act. These range from Section 1241 to 1251. Section 1241 deals with the Congress purpose behind this act, while Section 1242 deals with the whole National Trails System. Section 1243 deals with national recreational trails, how they are established and designated, while Section 1244 deals with the same thing for national scenic and historic trails. Section 1245 deals with how connecting and side trails are set apart, and where they should be located at. Section 1246 deals with how the national trails system is overseen by different government forces, while Section 1247 deals with state and local area recreation and historic trails. Section 1248 talks about federal use and right-of-ways, while Section 1249 tells the administrators how the funds should be set up. Section 1250 and Section 1251 talk about volunteer trails assistance and the definitions of various things discussed in the National Trails System Act (Ch. 27, 18).
Section 1247 (d) deals with a new way in which the devolution of Railroad Corridors can occur, which basically means the breaking down of railroad corridors. Until 1987 active, in-service, railroads have federal regulations over the land, track, and even over the trains. Inactive, out-of-Service, railroads had federal regulations over land and over the track. Abandoned railroads had no federal regulations at all, which basically means that control of the land is taken over by whoever is specified as the owner in the deed. With the addition of Section 1247 (d) inactive railroads can have federal regulations over just the land, if the tracks can be relaid by the railroads at a future date. This means that the rails on the railroad tracks can be broken up and set aside as trails (for an interim time, until rails are relaid) without violating any government regulations or laws (devolution, 5).
Section 1247 (d) states that “The Secretary of Transportation, the Chairman of the Surface Transportation Board, and the Secretary of the Interior, in administering the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 [45 U.S.C. 801
et seq.], shall encourage State and local agencies and private interests to establish appropriate trails using the provisions of such programs. Consistent with the purposes of that Act, and in furtherance of the national policy to preserve established railroad rights-of-way for future reactivation of rail service, to protect rail transportation corridors, and to encourage energy efficient transportation use, in the case of interim use of any established railroad rights-of-way pursuant to donation, transfer, lease, sale, or otherwise in a manner consistent with this chapter, if such interim use is subject to restoration or reconstruction for railroad purposes, such interim use shall not be treated, for purposes of any law or rule of law, as an abandonment of the use of such rights-of-way for railroad purposes.
If a State, political subdivision, or qualified private organization is prepared to assume full responsibility for management of such rights-of-way and for any legal liability arising out of such transfer or use, and for the payment of any and all taxes that may be levied or assessed against such rights-of-way, then the Board shall impose such terms and conditions as a requirement of any transfer or conveyance for interim use in a manner consistent with this chapter, and shall not permit abandonment or discontinuance inconsistent or disruptive of such use (Section 1247d, 19).
The first part of Section 1247 (d) deals with who exactly encourages states, local agencies and private interests to establish these rail- trails. In this case it is the Secretary of Transportation, the Chairman of the Surface Transportation Board and the Secretary of the Interior. The next part of Section 1247 (d) generally says that inactive railroads and their right-of-ways can be set aside for effective transportation use, trails, and not treated as abandoned railways if they can be restored to future railways at a later date. The last part basically says if the administrating agency behind these rails-to-trails programs is ready to assume full fiscal, legal and managerial responsibility for them then they should follow the rules already discussed in this amendment about what constitutes railroads that can be used as trails. Then they should set up rails-trails in a manner they deem to be appropriate based on this amendment. Before the creation of this amendment there were some rail-trails that paved the way for the creation of this amendment (Section 1247 d, 19).
The Illinois Prairie Path is one of the first rails-to trail conversion in this country and was created in 1965. The trail is just outside the city of Chicago and goes through Cook, DuPage and Kane counties. The surface of the trail is loose and uneven which makes it tricky for road bikes but just fine for mountain bikes and any pedestrians as well. It is named after the mostly prairie land that it traverses in its 61 mile path. The trail consists of five connected trail segments with three main parts of the trail converging at Volunteer Park in Wheaton, IL. The main portion of the trail starts in Maywood, IL and heads 15 miles west to Wheaton, IL. From there one stem of the trail goes 15 miles northwest to Elgin, IL where it connects with another trail called the Fox River Trail. Another stem of the trail heads 13 miles southwest from Wheaton to Aurora, IL connecting with the Fox River and Virgil Gilman trails. A stem of the trail connects from Elgin, IL and heads west 11 miles towards Geneva, IL. The final stem of the trail goes from Aurora and heads six miles west towards Batavia, IL. The great thing about the Illinois Prairie Path is that its trail segments not only connect with each other but they also connect with other trails! From the Illinois Prairie Path you can connect to the Fox River Trail which in turn connects with the McHenry County Prairie trail. This means that a person can conceivably bike 100 miles from Maywood, IL to the Wisconsin border on bike trails (Biking, 3).
The path actually traverses the historical line of the Chicago, Aurora, and Elgin electric railroads. This was basically a railroad that provided passenger service from the suburbs to downtown Chicago starting in 1902. By the mid 1950’s as national highways and interstate highways were being built, and used, the railroads fell into decline and many of the routes were transferred to bus service. Once the Eisenhower Expressway was built in 1955 the railroads all but went extinct due to the Expressway providing service to suburban commuters going to work in the city of Chicago. In 1959 all service on the rail line ended, and was abandoned in 1961. In 1963, a retired teacher and naturalist (May Theilgaard Watts) proposed the idea for a trail on the old rail lines to the Chicago Tribune. Two years later the trail was established as well as the Illinois Prairie Path Corporation, a non-for-profit company set up to run the trail. A year later the first 21 miles of the trail were acquired and were developed over the course of the next twenty years, basically through volunteer labor. Today the trail is run by a consortium of various government agencies due of course to liability issues, but the Illinois Prairie Path Corporation is still active in the improvements of the trails (Illinois, 9).
The Elroy- Sparta bike trail is another early rail to trail conversion example. It was created in 1965 and runs 32 miles in length from Elroy, WI to Sparta, WI. The bike trail runs along old sections of the old Chicago and Northwestern railroads. These railroads helped supplied markets in Madison and Chicago with goods from the Dakota’s and Minnesota. These goods ranged from crops, whether they are fruits or vegetables, to countless herds of cattle that were transported from these places to stockyards in Chicago. At the peak of their powers the railways had six passenger trains and 40 to 50 freight trains that passed through the Elroy-Sparta stretch of the railway. Today 60,000 cyclists use this trail on a yearly basis (Elroy, 6).
The trail crosses into towns like Norwalk, Wilton, and Kendall in route to its destination of Sparta which of course have important tourist’s amenities like shops and restaurants. The trail offers vital amenities like restrooms, drinking water, campgrounds, and even snack concessions as well. Elroy- Sparta has a hard-packed crushed limestone base which makes it easy for walkers and joggers as well as bikers. The trail is suitable for mostly any kind of bicycle tires. A big advantage of the Elroy Sparta trail is its connectivity to other trails. With this trail you can pick up the Lacrosse River State Trail in Sparta and the 400 State Trail and Omaha Trail in Elroy. A person could conceivably use these trails to bike 100 miles from the Mississippi River into the heart of Wisconsin. The Elroy Sparta trail is known for its fascinating tunnels. There are three tunnels in total along the trail and they act mostly like caves. Water drips down the walls of the tunnels into little tiny pools on the surface of the trail. The temperatures of the tunnels also stay around a comfortable 50 to 60 degrees regardless of the outside temperature (Elroy, 6).
The first tunnel is located approximately 9 miles from Sparta and is 3,810 feet long. This is around the length of 10 football fields long. The tunnel is completely dark making it impassible without the use of any flashlights. Flashlights can be brought at kiosks on each side of the tunnel. This tunnel cost a million dollars to build and was three year engineering process back in the 1870’s (the tunnel would be completed in 1873). The tunnel was constructed digging by hand through solid rock. A shaft was dug from the top of the hill to the center of the tunnel allowing workers dig from the center out as well as the two ends. The second tunnel along the Elroy- Sparta trail is between the towns of Norwalk and Wilton. It is 1,694 feet long and like all the other tunnels has 20 foot doors at its entrances. These doors were open and closed during the winter for traveling trains so snow could not accumulate in these tunnels. These doors are still used for the same purpose when snowmobiles use them in the winter. Small door sized indentations can be seen in the walls near the doors. This is where tunnel watchmen were stationed opening and closing the doors up to 50 times in a day! The third and final tunnel is located 5 miles east of Wilton, WI. It is also 1,694 feet long the same length as the second tunnel. The tunnel runs a straight path through the rock and like tunnel 2 has a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnels of the Elroy-Sparta trail add to the scenic value of the trail (Elroy, 6).
The DeKalb County bike trail was the first rail-to-trail conversion in Indiana created in 1975. DeKalb County is located in northwest Indiana about 120 miles northwest of Indianapolis. The bike trail runs 4 miles from the Waterloo city limits in Waterloo, IN to Greenhurst Country Club in Auburn, IN. It runs along State Road 427 right by DeKalb High School[, Junior High, and elementary schools. School officials encouraged the County to build this pathway in 1976? after seeing some young students trying to bicycle to the newly built schools several miles outside town. This pathway was built on a wide corridor of land along the eastside of the former State Route 427. Unknown at the time, but this land was a former interurban railline, which was removed about 1940].
The surface is concrete which is [somewhat] rough but can be easily traveled by bike and foot. Walking, biking, inline skating and cross country skinning, in the winter of course, are some of the activities that take place along the trail. The trail is also wheelchair accessible as well making it traversable for the disabled as well. The DeKalb County bike trail is managed by the Auburn Parks Department whose office is in Auburn, IN (DeKalb, 4).
The Monon Trail is one of the best known examples of a rail-to-trail conversion in the state of Indiana. [The City of Indianapolis opened the first segment, Nora to Broad Ripple Village, in 1996.] Other sections were built up over a period of several years. The trail itself is in Central Indiana and runs 15.7 miles from Carmel, IN to Indianapolis, IN through Marion County and Hamilton County. The trail starts at 10th Street in Indianapolis and usually ran to 146th Street in Carmel. A new part of the trail, however, was added a couple of years ago and the trail now extends to 161st street in Westfield. Through the course of the trail the Monon goes past such Indianapolis landmarks like the State Fairgrounds, Broad Ripple Village, and Marott Park and Nature Preserve. The Monon has an asphalt surface making it easier for trailgoers. The Monon Trail can be used for walking, jogging, biking, inline skating and even cross-country skiing in the winter. The trail is also wheelchair accessible which of course is good news for people with disabilities. Because of its location and amenities the Monon Trail receives on average about 1.3 million users a year (Monon, 16).
The trail follows the old route of the Monon Railroad. The Monon Railroad operated between 1847 and was merged [into the Louisville and Nashville RR] in 1971. There were two main parts to the Monon Railroad, as well as two minor parts. The first main part of the railroad went from Hammond [Chicago] to Indianapolis (passing) through [the town of ] Monon. This line also went through Frankfort. The second main part of the railroad went from Michigan City to New Albany and Louisville. Along the way it passed through cities and towns such as Monon, Lafayette, and Orleans. A minor part of the railroad went from Wallace Jct. to Midland, while another minor part of the Monon connected Orleans to French Lick. The Monon Railroad went through the key cities and towns of Indiana during it day which would play a big part in its connectivity and popularity (Railroad, 12).
The Monon Railroad was famous for being one of the only north to south railroad corridors in the state of Indiana during the late 19th century and early 20th century. The railroad provided a central route from Lake Michigan south to the Ohio River. This came in handy during the 1860’s when the Union needed a supply line to supply their troops with weapons and ammunition. Later on the railroad became known for carrying coal and other freight. After World War II the railroad was refitted and shuttled passengers twice daily from Chicago to Indianapolis. The Monon railroad, during this time, ran through five major universities. These universities were Butler, DePauw, Purdue, and Indiana Universities as well as Wabash College. Because of this the Monon Railroad was known as the lifeblood of Indiana. During the 1940’s some passenger cars even bore the colors of Indiana University as well as Purdue University. The decision to put Purdue University in Lafayette in 1869 had to do with the Monon Railroad crossing through Lafayette. The collegiate vibe of the railroad would have an impact on the creation of the Monon Trail later on (Railroad, 12).
What sets the Monon Trail apart from other rail to trail conversions, regular trails or greenways is the trails closeness to cultural and tourist attractions as well as the arts. The Indianapolis State Fairgrounds is right off the trail and during the first couple of weeks in August the Indiana State fair takes place there. The Monon Trail during this time can be used as an entry point for people to enjoy the wonderful sights and sounds of the State Fair. In Broad Ripple Village, also, there is also the Indianapolis Art Center another popular cultural and tourist attraction in and of itself. On any point in the Monon Trail you can find thriving neighborhood communities, different restaurants and shops, as well as thriving nightlife. The fun loving collegiate vibe of the Monon Rail has carried over to the Monon Trail. I am not just talking about Broad Ripple, but for other communities as well. It is no wonder that over a million people use the Monon Trail each year. Communities that would not want a trail like this would have to be absolutely insane (Monon, 16).
During the 1990’s the city of Carmel watched as the southern part of the Monon was built to great hoopla in Indianapolis. The city council of Carmel, however, did not have the political stomach or will to bring about the creation of the Monon trail through Carmel. People in the community were probably opposed to the addition of the Monon through Carmel for a couple of reasons. They probably feared the noise from the pedestrians that would use the trail. Either that or they feared there would be a loss of safety with the trail running nearby their houses. In any case this is usually what happens when government propose trails in communities. After the trails are created though people love the trails and the opportunities they provide for recreation and nightlife. Trail enthusiasts in Carmel were disappointed with the city councils lack of action during the mid 1990’s. One of these rail-trail enthusiasts was Ron Carter.
In 1995 Carter ran for Carmel City council on a platform of trail creation. He went on to win a seat in the city council and after he was elected began assembling the trail through Carmel. Today Carter still remains a voice for trail advocacy. Carter was an executive director of the Greenway’s Foundation, which is an organization that works to promote the growth, use and enhancement of Indiana’s greenways. He brags about the Monon trail and says that any community would be lucky to have a rail-to-trail conversion like the Monon. The Monon trail is a treasure of the Indianapolis area and a reason why many cities across the United States are looking to rail to trail conversions (Monon, 16).
ISTEA helped the development of trails in this country as well. ISTEA stands for Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act and was signed into law by Congress during 1991. This bill was lasted from 1991 to 1997. During this time [December 1991] George HW Bush was president [signed the bill] and the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. This however did not stop the bill from being passed in a bipartisan fashion. ISTEA changed the way transportation infrastructure was put into motion in the United States. The bill set aside transportation planning to be done by local organizations called Metropolitan Planning Organizations. The notion of Intermodalisim was set forth by the passage of this bill. Intermodalisim is the effort of investing in different types of transportation modes other than automobile driving. This money invested is for facilities for pedestrians, bikers, and even high speed rail. Another important thing about ISTEA is that it acknowledged the idea of efficiency basically meaning that we need reduce our consumption of fossil fuels caused by automobile driving. ISTEA was known for giving money and popularity to the rails-to-trails program (ISTEA, 1).
This idea is stated in the below passage from the Act itself: “To develop a National Intermodal Transportation System that is economically efficient, environmentally sound, provides the foundation for the Nation to compete in the global economy and will move people and goods in an energy efficient manner.” Congress and President Bush realized that in order to compete in the global economy transportation systems could not just be economically efficient at the expense of the environment. Transportation systems had to benefit both the environment and economy in order to move goods and people in a more efficient manner. After all if we use up our natural resources and degrade the environment by having a transportation system focused solely on automobile driving we might not have a sustainable world left to effectively move goods and services. ISTEA also gave requirements for states to prepare system management plans and made the planning aspects of transportation more efficient by giving the control over these issues to the local MPO’s (Metropolitan Planning Organizations). This bill brought regional land use planning and transportation investment together. Besides establishing a program for surface transportation, ISTEA also brought forth a program called Congestion Management and Air Quality (CMAQ) that provided funding for non-attainment areas for projects that perhaps could improve air quality. The bill also had programs that promoted the use of seat belts in cars as well (ISTEA, 1).
ISTEA’s notion of intermodalisim fit right in with the rails-to-trails program. The entire rails-to-trails program was already setting aside one form of transportation, trains, for another healthier form of transportation (biking, walking, etc.). The funding given to MPO’s to the rail-to-trail program and other trail programs helped establish the popularity of the cause. ISTEA was only just doing what citizens across the United States wanted. During the 1990’s around 72 percent of all Americans wanted a community based planning structure which set aside money to make walking, biking and running a major part of their community’s transportation system. In many heavily populated cities old dilapidated railroad corridors are the only areas that could still be used for trail development (Plan, 10).
Rail-to-trail development is also cheaper than other forms of trail development. This is, of course, because a surface for a trail already exists under the rail lines or railroad tracks. The congress, in passing ISTEA, realized that railroads were being abandoned at a fast rate. At the time the rate was 2,000 miles of railroad per year that was being abandoned. They realized that if they did not act on a chance to create more rails-to-trails programs than they would lose out on a crucial opportunity to create an environmentally friendly trail system. ISTEA also increased the number of funding programs for which bike/pedestrian programs, like rails-to-trails, could be eligible for. These funding programs included: the National Highway System, Bridge Program, Scenic Byways Program, Federal Transit Funding and Highway Safety Programs. They also included the Surface Transportation Program, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, the Federal Lands Highway Program, and the National Recreational Trails Fund. The increase in funding programs was a big reason for ISEA’s impact on the development of rails-to-trail programs in the United States (Plan, 10).
TEA-21 which stands for Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century was a reauthorization of ISTEA. Like ISTEA the bill authorizes federal highways, highway safety, transit, and other surface transportation programs. TEA-21 was signed into law on June 8, 1998 and covered the six year period between October 1st 1997 and September 30th 2003. This bill basically continues ISTEA’s programs and policies in an updated manner. ISTEA’s main policy of allowing local groups to invest in transportation projects is continued in the TEA-21 legislation. TEA-21 was at the time the largest public works bill in United States history. Over 218 billion dollars were made available to invest in federal highways, highway safety, transit, and other surface transportation projects. There was also an increase in highway and transit funds as well. A 42 percent increase in highway funds and a 31 percent increase in transit authorizations from ISTEA was a small but significant change in the legislation (TEA-21, 17).
TEA-21 also changed federal budget rules and allowed for guaranteed minimum federal funding levels for highways, highway safety and transit programs. The minimum federal funding level was written into the budget as sort of a firewall and the amount was set at 198 billion dollars. In the past funding for surface transportation projects was just a priority battling it out with other priorities in the federal budget. Now with the minimum federal funding level written into the national budget surface transportation projects were given high precedence indeed. TEA-21 also assured each state that there would be a minimum return on the amount of gas taxes it contributes to the Highway Trust Fund. The amount of gas taxes a state contributes to the fund is based upon a statute formula and the minimum return for each state was set at 90.5 percent of its contributions to the fund. There is, however, no minimum return on transit funds in TEA-21 ( TEA-21, 17).
TEA-21 also allowed for an increase in funding given to trails. In the last year of ISTEA 15 million dollars was set aside to the Recreational Trails Program. The Recreational Trails Program is a program set up by the federal government that gives funds to develop and maintain recreational trails for motorized and nonmotorized users. During the six years that TEA-21 was instituted the funding increase. The funding went from 30 million in 1998, to 40 million in 1999, and then leveled out around 50 million for 2000 until 2003. Projects that were eligible for TEA-21 funding included: maintenance and restoration of existing recreational trails, development and rehabilitation of trailside and trailhead facilities and trail linkages; purchasing trail construction and maintenance equipment; construction of new recreational trails; purchase of property rights for recreational trail, as well as State administrative costs related to program administration. This also included educational programs that were designed to promote safety and environmental protection in their use of recreational trails. The states were also mandated by TEA-21 to use their funds in certain ways. States had to use a minimum of 40 percent of their funds for diverse trail uses (rails-to-trails), a 30 percent minimum for motorized recreation, as well as another 30 percent minimum for non-motorized recreation. TEA-21 also tells the states to give thought to projects that provide for the redesign, reconstruction, or relocation of recreational trails to benefit the natural environment. States are also encouraged to enter into agreements or contracts with youth corp. groups to perform trail maintence and construction as well (21st Century, 15).
The reauthorization of TEA-21 was SAFTEA-LU. SAFTEA-LU stood for the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users. If you believe that the acronyms for transportation bills have gotten more confusing and drawn out as time has gone along than you would not be alone. This was passed into law on August 10th, 2005 by President George W Bush and covered the period from October 1st 2003 till September 30th 2009. SAFTEA-LU built on the ideas laid down by previous surface transportation bills such as ISTEA and TEA-21. It guaranteed 244 billion dollars for highways, highway safety and public transportation. This makes it the largest surface transportation investment in US history surpassing even the bill it reauthorized, TEA-21. Transportation problems that were present at the time and today were addressed in this bill. Problems that were addressed in this bill included transportation safety, reducing traffic congestion, protecting the environment, increasing intermodal connectivity, and improving the movement of freight in the transportation network. SAFTEA-LU wanted to make transportation programs more effective and efficient by tending to focus on big national projects instead of state and local projects. The federal government gave states and local governments their latitude in running their own programs. Considering that George W. Bush, a Republican, signed this into law this is not really that surprising. Letting state and local governments solve their own funding problems is a classic play from the conservative playbook (Summary, 2).
Transportation safety was combated in this bill by doubling the funds for infrastructure safety and highway safety planning. This was done in order to bring about fewer fatalities on the nations roadways. SAFTEA-LU tackled congestion by giving states more leeway in having road pricing manage congestion. This bill also promotes state and local governments using real-time traffic management programs in order to improve transportation security. Transportation security was improved by these programs providing better information to travelers and emergency responders. The stewardship of the environment was taken into consideration by having more programs that focused on the environment. One of these programs included nonmotorized transportation and a new program Safe Routes to School. SAFTEA-LU also increases environmental regulations for the Statewide and Metropolitan planning process (Summary, 2).
SAFTEA-LU also benefited the trails program as well. It protected trail programs like Transportation Enhancements from being gutted by Congress. SAFTEA-LU legislation also allotted 3.5 billion dollars in funds for this program. This program is the largest source of trail, bike, and pedestrian funding in the United States. Under SAFTEA-LU the Recreational Trails Program was allotted 370 million dollars. As you recall from above this program is funded by using a portion of federal gas taxes for off-road recreational vehicles. During past years this program only received a small percentage of revenues of trail users. SAFTEA-LU makes up for this by allowing a 64 percent increase in annual funding for the Recreational Trails Program. The Safe Routes to School Program was given 612 million dollars in funding. This program was set in place in order to promote environmental stewardship as well as overall healthiness among individuals.
The program does this by having local communities make more of an emphasis on walking and biking to school to school instead of using cars (Highlights, 8).
The Safe Routes to School Program plans on doing this by creating safe paths and trails for students to and from school. The non-motorized Transportation Pilot program was also given 100 million dollars as well, and is also a new program under SAFTEA-LU. This program will help several cities across the United States create a more efficient intermodal transportation network. It will do this by connecting trails, bike lanes, sidewalks, mass transit and other categories of modal transportation. These projects at the time were slated to take place in Columbia, MO, Marin County, CA, Minneapolis/St.Paul, MI, and Sheboygan County Wisconsin. SAFTEA-LU helped guide rails-to-trails programs further along into the 21st century. America’s attitude towards trails has come a long way since the mid 20th century but more work is needed to be done in order to make America less dependent on automobile transportation (Highlights, 8).
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