Two states have shifted funds previously dedicated to landscape and trail projects to their state’s general transportation account, as made possible by the latest federal infrastructure bill.
Florida and Kansas opted out of the Transportation Alternatives program established by MAP-21, the new federal transportation law finalized in July. Governors had until Sept. 1 to notify the Department of Transportation if they were opting out of the program. Money for states that do not participate will be diverted to a general transportation fund, away from previously mandated ventures like the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), landscape/streetscape enhancements, and the Safe Routes to School program.
Groups like the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA) spoke out against the “opt out” option and have been critical of how the funding mandate was broadened. The national office and 32 state ASLA chapters joined more than 1,100 other state and national groups as signatories on a letter to all 50 state governors supporting continued funding of the trails program as “an investment in the economic future of our communities and our public lands.”
“I have a strong feeling that in the coming months we will see efforts to mobilize recreation groups in all states, to ensure that when decision time comes around again in 2013, the thought of dropping out of RTP is no longer a politically viable option.” ARRA executive director Larry E. Smith said in a release.
According to Florida Governor Rick Scott and statements from the Florida Department of Transportation, the state still intends to fully fund projects under the Transportation Alternatives banner, which were previously funded by other separate programs. Though the money Florida will receive from this new Transportation Alternatives account will be less than it had previously received, FDOT will still fund about $2.6 million a year for trail projects and Safe Routes to School, according to Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad.
"This action should in no way be viewed as an indication that Florida does not support recreational trails," Prasad said in a statement. "Florida offers a year-round opportunity for our residents and visitors to enjoy our great state as cyclists and pedestrians. We want to make their experiences as safe and enjoyable as possible."