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Federal Transportation Funds Benefit Recreation

Federal Highway Administration Programs Benefit Trails

Photo of a group of people attending opening day and dedication of the Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway in Texas
  1. Who is FHWA?
  2. FHWA Funds for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Projects and Trails
  3. Federal-Aid Highway Program Funding for Pedestrian and Bicycle Facilities and Programs
  4. Key Programs for Trail Projects
  5. Federal Lands Highway Program
  6. Federal-Aid Highway Program Funds for Trails
  7. National Scenic Byways Program
  8. Eligible Scenic Byways Projects
  9. Transportation Enhancement Activities
  10. Transportation Enhancements: 12 Eligible Activities
  11. Transportation Enhancement Activities
  12. How does TE project funding work?
  13. TE Project Examples
  14. Some TE Issues
  15. Using Federal Funds
  16. Recreational Trails Program (RTP)
  17. RTP Eligible Projects
  18. RTP Partnerships
  19. RTP Project Examples
  20. Who can sponsor an RTP project?
  21. How does RTP project funding work?
  22. How do I get funds for my project?
  23. Federal Highway Program Update
  24. Additional Resources
  25. For more information

Who is FHWA?

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FHWA Funds for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Projects and Trails


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Federal-Aid Highway Program Funding for Pedestrian and Bicycle Facilities and Programs
FY 1992 to 2017 (Millions of Dollars)

Chart showing level of funding over time, from 1992 to 2015, for TE, SRTS & NTPP, ARRA, and Total Obligations. Amounts are shown in millions and range from $0 to $1400. For detailed description of funding please see:

* TAP/TE: TE funds available 1992-2015; TAP funds available beginning 2013.


NOTE: Over the life of the TE Activities, about one-third of TE project funding has been obligated for shared use paths, rail-trails, and other transportation trails.

The Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) provided $5.9 million for pedestrian and bicycle safety projects, or 0.35% of the $1.7 billion obligated in FY 2011 HSIP funds. Pedestrians and bicyclists are 14% of highway fatalities.

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Key Programs for Trail Projects

Several trail projects have been funded through the “High Priority Projects” and through earmarks to discretionary programs.

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Federal Lands Highway Program

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Federal-Aid Highway Program Funds for Trails

  • Pedestrian/bicycle/trail projects using STP or CMAQ funds may be located anywhere. While 23 U.S.C 133(c) requires most STP projects to be located within Federal-aid highway rights-of-way, it exempts bicycle and pedestrian projects and safety projects from the highway requirement. The Secretary of Transportation issued an exemption for Transportation Enhancements projects.
  • See STP Legislation: (HTML / PDF)
  • See TE Exception:
  • Pedestrian/bicycle/trail projects using HSIP or SRTS funds also can be located anywhere:
    • HSIP: 23 U.S.C. 148(d)(1)(A)
    • SRTS: SAFETEA-LU §1404(f)(1)(B)
  • Planning Process. Projects must be consistent with metropolitan and statewide transportation plans. Prior to funding, projects must be included in a metropolitan area’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) [if in a metropolitan area] and the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).
  • Earmarks. The best way to get funding for a project is to go through the normal application process through the metropolitan planning organization (if in a metropolitan area) and the State. Project sponsors that obtain earmarks generally work outside the normal process, which makes the process more difficult for everybody else. Many earmarked projects end up “bumping” other eligible projects that may have been of higher priority for a community or for the State. Some States “punish” communities that receive earmarks; that is, if a community receives an earmark for one project, then the State may decide not to fund other projects that normally would have been funded. Some States delay earmarked projects, so that the sponsor may have obtained a completed project sooner by going through the normal process.
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National Scenic Byways Program

Photo of the Vista House interpretive center at Crown Point State Park, Oregon

Photo credits: Vista House, Crown Point, Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon. This project used a combination of Federal Lands Highway Program, Transportation Enhancement, and National Scenic Byways Funds. See

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Eligible Scenic Byways Projects

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An aerial view of the Soo Line 'S' Bridge in Eau Claire, WI.

Transportation Enhancement Activities

Surface Transportation
Surface transportation means all elements of the intermodal transportation system, exclusive of aviation. For the purposes of TE eligibility, surface transportation includes water as surface transportation and includes as eligible activities related features such as canals, lighthouses, and docks or piers connecting to ferry operations, as long as the proposed enhancement otherwise meets the basic eligibility criteria.

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Transportation Enhancement Activities. 12 Eligible Categories

TE projects must relate to surface transportation and be eligible under one or more of 12 Eligible Categories:

  1. Pedestrian and bicycle facilities
  2. Pedestrian and bicycle safety and education
  3. Scenic or historic easements and sites
  4. Scenic or historic highway programs
  5. Landscaping and scenic beautification
  6. Historic preservation
  7. Historic transportation buildings, structures, or facilities
  8. Rail-trail conversions
  9. Inventory, control, and removal of outdoor advertising
  10. Archaeological planning and research
  11. Mitigate highway water pollution and wildlife mortality
  12. Transportation museums
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Transportation Enhancement Activities

  • The National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse provides technical assistance for TE.
  • The Corps Network developed a publication entitled Conservation Corps and Transportation: Making the Connection. (with FHWA support) to help States and Youth Corps work better together.
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How does TE project funding work?

States must keep the aggregate non-Federal not less than their share under 23 U.S.C. 120(b) (80%/sliding scale).
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TE Project Examples

Photo collage of Transportation Enhancements Projects

Rail-trails: Osage Prairie Trail, Tulsa OK.

Canal Parks: Canal Boats in the Turning Basin, Richmond VA.

Riverwalks: Tennessee Riverwalk, Chattanooga TN.

Rail-trails and canal trails: Farmington Canal Linear Park, Cheshire CT. (Cheshire Historical Society)

Trails and Wildlife Corridors: Stevens Creek Trail and Wildlife Corridor, Mountain View, CA.

Program info:

Source: National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse project library

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Some TE Issues


  • States should ensure that they choose high quality projects that clearly relate to surface transportation.
  • The TE Activities have a lot of opposition, with claims that TE projects divert Federal Highway Trust Fund money away from essential highway projects by funding "frivolous" projects that don't benefit transportation. Attacks continue to the present, such as the Out of Gas report from July 2009 [see Historical Notes below]. The attackers often use selective facts, and ignore the transportation, community, economic, and safety benefits of most TE projects. However, TE Projects that don't benefit surface transportation are easy targets for people who oppose the TE Activities.
  • Although TE projects must relate to surface transportation, nothing in Federal law prohibits TE funded trails from allowing recreational use. The restriction in 23 U.S.C. 217(i) requiring principally a transportation purpose only applies only bicycle projects, not to other uses. However, recreational park amenities are not eligible because they don't relate to or benefit transportation.
  • Accessible trails must have a firm and stable surface, but this does not necessarily require paving. It is also possible to have dual tracks: one accessible (firm and stable) track, and one soft surface track. See
  • The planning and project development processes require open public involvement for all possible stakeholders. Equestrians, mountain bicyclists, snowmobilers, historic preservation advocates, and others have a right to participate in any trail or highway project development process.
  • See Equestrian and Other Nonmotorized Use on Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities at States may have more restrictive requirements. Project sponsors can limit uses based on safety considerations.
  • FHWA developed a Framework for Considering Motorized Use on Nonmotorized Trails and Pedestrian Walkways under 23 U.S.C. §217. See
  • FHWA encourages States to use Youth Corps on TE projects. The Corps Network developed a publication entitled Conservation Corps and Transportation: Making the Connection. (with FHWA support) to help States and Youth Corps work better together.

Historical Notes: Congressional action specific to TE funding.
House of Representatives proposal to eliminate TE funds in Summer 2003: Failed: 327-90.
Senate proposal to cut TE funds on May 17, 2005: Failed 84-16.
Senator Coburn proposed three amendments to the FY 2010 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill on September 15, 2009:

  • S. Amendment 2370 would have prohibited funding for TE if the Highway Trust Fund does not contain amounts sufficient to cover unfunded highway authorizations (and the Fund is bankrupt). Amendment withdrawn.
  • S. Amendment 2371 would have allowed States to opt out of the 10% set aside rule (10% of STP for TE). VOTED DOWN, 39 yes, 59 no votes. The amendment title stated "opt out", but the text was "None of the funds made available by the Act may be used to implement section 133(d)(2) of title 23, United States Code." This would have prevented any State from funding any TE projects with FY 2010 funds.
  • S. Amendment 2372 would have stated that none of the funds made available by this Act may be used for a museum. VOTED DOWN, 41 yes, 57 no votes.
  • There were several attacks in Summer/Fall 2011, with attempts to eliminate using any USDOT funds for some TE-eligible activities.
  • The Senate proposal announced in November 2011 would eliminate specific funding for TE, and dilute it with other eligibilities, including calling any environmental mitigation a transportation enhancement.
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Using Federal Funds

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Recreational Trails Program

Recreational Trails Program Funding:

FHWA encourages States to use Youth Corps on RTP projects. FHWA and the Corps Network developed Conservation Corps and Transportation: Making the Connection in 2008 to encourage States and Youth Corps to work better together.

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RTP Eligible Projects

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RTP Partnerships

Many trail related publications are available at
American Trails has an extensive resources library at
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Photo collage of Recreational Trails Program Projects
From the Coalition for Recreational Trails
Annual Achievement Awards

RTP Project Examples

High Bridge Park, New York City: Inner-city kids benefit the most from this urban mountain bike trail.

Boundary Canal Trail, Palm Bay FL, part of the South Brevard Linear Trail plan, a 22-mile multi-use path through the southeastern end of the county.

Oregon integrates recreational trails and transportation facilities: Portland Esplanade.

Trails connect parks and recreation in urban cores: MKT Trail, Columbia MO.

River Valley OHV Park, Council Bluffs IA
Urban Off Highway Vehicle Park
Photo collage of Recreational Trails Program Projects
From the Nebraska Department of Roads, to document US 275 bridge reconstruction. The River Valley OHV Park, Council Bluffs IA is on the Iowa (east) side (to the right).
OHV riding area parking lot
Photo collage of Recreational Trails Program Projects
River Valley Trail Riders. The new OHV parking lot was constructed using Highway Bridge Program funds as mitigation for taking the old parking lot for the new bridge. RTP funds were used for the trails.
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Who can sponsor an RTP project?

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How does RTP project funding work?

RTP Federal Share and Matching Requirements:
  • In general: 80% Federal share / sliding scale.
  • Federal project sponsors may provide an additional Federal share up to 95% Federal.
  • Funds from Federal programs can match RTP funds.
  • RTP Funds may match other Federal funds.
  • States may allow a programmatic match.
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How do I get funds for my project?

  • The Corps Network developed a publication entitled Conservation Corps and Transportation: Making the Connection. (with FHWA support) to help States and Youth Corps work better together.
  • See Manuals and Guides for Trail Design, Construction, Maintenance, and Operation, and for Signs at

Complete the project application completely.

  • Fully explain what the project will involve.
  • Include detailed cost estimates so that the reviewer can fully understand specific cost items, not only an overall cost "guesstimate". Make sure the numbers add up correctly.
  • Make sure your project match is eligible, incorporated into the project, and readily available.
  • Be honest! Don't try to cover up potential problems such as impacts on environmental, historic, or cultural resources, hazardous waste, design constraints, etc. It is better to be aware of problems and mitigate them correctly, rather than potentially lose the whole project.
  • Make sure you have sufficient title or easement rights. Property right interests must comply with the Uniform Act: see
  • Check your proposal before submitting, and make sure all sections are complete and accurate. A well-written, grammatically correct, and fully complete proposal is easier to read and evaluate, and an accurate application often indicates the ability to complete a quality project.
  • Do not begin work prior to Federal approval to proceed. Costs incurred prior to Federal approval cannot be reimbursed.

However, please remember that project reviewers have limited time available to review your application. Provide the essential information necessary to determine if your project is eligible and beneficial. But please don't include information that is not relevant or necessary. Do not include:

  • Historical anecdotes that don't directly relate to the project.
  • Copies of supplemental reports that are not necessary to support the application.
  • Costs and proposals for items that are not eligible or relevant: this may result in rejecting your entire project.
  • Don't "pad" costs and don't "pad" donations or match: this may result in rejecting your entire project.
  • Please don't start letter writing campaigns in support of the application. A few select letters of support may be helpful from key elected officials or high ranking decisionmakers--if required in the application process. But spam-style letter writing campaigns that don't provide useful information for the reviewer may only aggravate the reviewers.

After project approval:

  • Get to work! States will rescind funds from projects that don't move forward, because funds expire if not used.
  • Only perform work that is approved in the project agreement. If changes are needed, you must work with your State, and you may need Federal approval to amend the project agreement.
  • You must submit an invoice if you want to get paid.
  • You must not charge for ineligible items.
  • You must not charge for work not covered in the project agreement.
  • When the project is complete, make sure the State initiates project close out procedures.
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Federal Highway Program Update

Many interest groups have opinions on Federal-aid highway program authorization: air quality, bicyclists, , ecosystems, environment, freight, pedestrians, safety, safe routes to school, trails, wetlands, wildlife, etc., and organizations with positions on government activity and taxation policy.

Surface Transportation (Re)Authorization: Resources and Comments for Trails and Transportation Enhancements
September 2009

Several organizations have thoughts about surface transportation authorization considerations related to trails and transportation enhancement activities. The list below focuses on viewpoints of interest to pedestrian, bicyclist, trail, and transportation enhancement advocates.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive list. The links reflect the views of these organizations. Providing these links does not represent endorsement by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Federal Highway Administration: Draft Ideas for Consideration

National Organizations


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Additional Resources

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For more information:

National RTP and TE oversight:
Christopher Douwes
Trails and Enhancements Program Manager
202-366-5013; fax 202-366-3409

Return to Federal Transportation Funds Benefit Recreation
Updated: 03/27/2018
Updated: 3/27/2018
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