2016 Recreational Trails Program One Pager
The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) was created by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), reauthorized in 1998 as part of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), again in 2005 through the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), and the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). Most recently, the RTP was reauthorized as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which covers Fiscal Years 2016 through 2020 and was signed by the President on December 4, 2015.
RTP applies the “user-pay/user-benefit” philosophy of the Highway Trust Fund, returning federal tax on fuel used for nonhighway recreation to the states for trail projects. Program implementation is consistent in practice with other expenditures from the Highway Trust Fund. Although the gas tax supporting the Fund is paid primarily by gas-using vehicles, resources are shared with other users of recreational trails to develop a balanced system.
Project categories eligible for funding are many and varied, giving states the flexibility they need to administer state trail programs. Eligible projects include: maintenance and restoration of existing recreational trails; development and rehabilitation of trailside and trailhead facilities and trail linkages for recreational trails; purchase and lease of recreational trail construction and maintenance equipment; construction of new recreational trails (with specific requirements when federal land is involved); acquisition of easements and fee simple title for recreational trail corridors; and assessment of trail conditions. State administrative and educational program costs are capped at 7% and 5% respectively. States are encouraged to enter into contracts and cooperative agreements with qualified youth conservation or service corps.
Thirty percent of funds are to be spent for uses relating to motorized recreation; 30% are to be spent for uses relating to nonmotorized recreation. In addition, 40% are to be used for projects that facilitate diverse recreational trail use within a recreational trail corridor, trailside or trailhead.
Funds are to be apportioned to the states in the same amounts that were in place in Fiscal Year 2009, the last year of SAFETEA-LU. At that time, the formula apportioned half of all funding to the states equally and the remaining 50% was apportioned among eligible states based upon nonhighway recreational fuel use in each of those states during the preceding year. There have been no adjustments to those apportionments since 2009.
After 25 years, RTP funding has grown to represent a larger portion of the total fuel taxes paid by nonhighway recreationists, although it is conservatively estimated that the RTP receives about one third of the total taxes paid annually by nonhighway recreationists. During Fiscal Year 2009, the last year of SAFETEA-LU, states received slightly more than $84 million in RTP funds, the same annual maximum approved under MAP-21 and now the FAST Act.
Since 1991, more than 21,000 RTP-funded projects have been documented nationwide with details available on the RTP database: www.recreationaltrailsinfo.org. The RTP has become the foundation for state trail programs across the country. It leverages hundreds of millions of dollars of additional support from other sources for trails, encourages productive cooperation among trail users, and facilitates healthy outdoor recreation and associated, badly needed economic activity in countless communities.