Trails in Indiana

FEDERAL BUDGET DEBATES.

Trails are often built using funds from the budget of the Surface Transportation Program, a budget that gets re-authorized by Congress every four to six years. Legislators in Washington D. C. are in the process of working out that budget for the next four-to-six-year period.

For a good explanation of the agencies, programs, potential projects, and how trails and came into the surface transportation budget picture, Click here.

The Surface Transportation Board's trails funding cleared a hurdle several weeks ago when amendments to cut that particular funding were voted down. However, still deeper problems exist to complicate the debate. At the risk of oversimplifying the issues, there are basically two camps: those who want more dollars put into alternative transportation modes, including trails and complete streets, for example. The second camp includes those folks who feel transportation dollars should be kept with roads and cars and the like, where it was traditionally focused after President Eisenhower signed the interstate highway bill in 1956.

A problem arises in that, with business down, gasoline prices trending up (more or less) and the resulting reduction in driver miles, plus alternative fuel systems on the horizon, the net result is less money available from gas taxes for highway construction and maintenance. Camp number two sees trail funding as siphoning off needed infrastructure monies.

Be that as it may, the budget debates continue. The National Association of County governments (NACO) recently issued a summary update of the Surface Transportation situation:

Congress Passes Another Extension of the Surface Transportation Program

On October 29, Congress passed a second short term extension of the federal surface transportation program through December 18, 2009. This was done as part of the Continuing Resolution, legislation that provides appropriations/funding for any federal agency whose appropriations bill for FY2010 has not been enacted. Some had anticipated a six-month extension when earlier this week key Senate leaders had indicated they were willing to accept six months as opposed to their previous stance supporting the eighteen month extension that had been requested by the Obama administration. This is all part of a tug of war between House members who want to move legislation quickly and Senate and administration officials who believe it will take more time to develop political support to increase the gas tax necessary for a more robust highway-transit program.