Trails in Indiana

Making Sense of the National Transportation Budget Issue


Confusion seems to be the order of business as legislators line up to make political hay about what’s important and what’s not with respect to the national transportation budget.

For 853 days, Congress has played kick the budget can down the road by repeatedly extending the expired national transportation budget.

During the waning days of the George H. W. Bush administration, Congress enacted I.S.T.E.A, (“ice-tea”), the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act.

“This was the first time that the national transportation budget acknowledged that biking and walking were actually modes of transportation,” said Richard Vonnegut, Vice-Chairman of HRTC.

Some members of Congress have the firmly implanted notion that if you walk or bike to the grocery store, that no transportation activity occurred.  If you get on your motorcycle or jump into your car or truck and drive to the grocery store, only then does transportation occur.

In a 2009 study, the National Household Transportation Survey study of transportation modalities found that 12% of transportation in the U.S. was done by walking or bicycling. 

Yet elements in Congress now conclude that the Transportation Budget needs to revert to a dysfunctional interpretation of “transportation” as “motorized transportation.”

Congressional views sharply contrast with policies especially here in Indiana where, in 2006, the state published the 133 page “Hoosiers on the Move, the Indiana State Trails-Greenways & Bikeways Plan.”

Obesity, child and adult, widely labeled as “epidemic” and one of the worst and widespread medical problems facing U.S. society today finds at least a partial solution in trail amenity.

Professor Bob Sandy, Ph.D. and colleagues published in 2009 the results of a ten year, 60,000 child study demonstrating a positive correlation between proximity to trails and other recreational facilities and child weight loss.  Yet, even Indiana Congressional members stridently assert that sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails as urban and rural amenities must absolutely cease to have funding.

 Bike and trail nay-sayers want to also, in the same stroke, stop funding “Safe Routes to School” (SRTS).  SRTS programs enable communities to enable children to walk or bike safely within two miles of school.

In 2006, the Governor of Indiana pledged to double state trail funding from 10 to 20 million dollars with an eye to putting all Hoosiers within 7.5 miles or 15 minutes to a trail from their home.  Now, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Indiana has attained 96.7% of that goal.Forget about the fact that aforementioned application of this money reduces air pollution, traffic congestion, and school safety concerns, saves gas and wear on cars, and allows for healthful exercise, and fosters community participation.

All these programs currently fall generally under the “Transportation Enhancement” portion of the national transportation budget, which comprises roughly 5 percent of the total budget.

Don’t kill the one, most cost effective, least expensive amenity the transportation budget currently still offers.

One argument strenuously proposed by opponents of trail building, sidewalks and the like states, ‘But the roadways and bridges in the country are in woeful need of repair.’ 

The May, 2011 Transportation Enhancements Spending Report, prepared by the National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse, states that about $12 billion in T. E. funds have been spent in the last 19 years.

The American Society of Civil Engineers report “Failure to Act; The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Surface Transportation Infrastructure” claims that an investment of “roughly $220 billion annually is needed from 2010 to 2040” for needed infrastructure improvements.

Transportation Enhancement funds would hardly be enough to impact the maintenance repair gap.

No, the congressional leadership of the past, passed the buck.  Failing in foresight to adopt transportation standards, having adopted no budget priorities for road development and maintenance, the U.S. is now stuck.

By threatening the elimination of lower cost ways of getting around for a fraction of the total transportation budget, some congressional representatives have opted to place opinion before deliberation on this subject.

Article by Mario Vian. (2012-03-02)