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Estimating Nonhighway Recreational Fuel Use for Recreational Trails Program Apportionments: FY 2011

The purpose of this document is to explain RTP apportionments for Federal Fiscal Year (FY) 2011.

  1. The 2009 edition of this document was developed to explain significant variations between FY 2008 and FY 2009 Recreational Trails Program (RTP) apportionments.
  2. The Recreational Trails Program apportionments were revised for FY 2009 through 2012. See Recreational Trails Program (RTP) Factors for Revised Apportionments for FY 2009 to 2012 for an explanation.


The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) provides funds to the States to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related facilities for both nonmotorized and motorized recreational trail uses. Examples of trail uses include hiking, bicycling, in-line skating, equestrian use, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, off-road motorcycling, all-terrain vehicle riding, four-wheel driving, or using other off-road motorized vehicles.

The Congress authorized the RTP for $60 million in 2005, $70 million in 2006, $75 million in 2007, $80 million in 2008, and $85 million in 2009. The FY 2010 authorization extended the FY 2009 apportionment level of $85 million. The FY 2011 authorization extended the FY 2009 level, plus an additional distribution to apportioned programs from other fund allocations, resulting in $97,665,193 for the RTP. FHWA may use up to $840,000 annually for program administration and trail related research, technical assistance, and training. The remaining funds are distributed to the States. Half of the funds are distributed equally among all States, and half are distributed in proportion to the estimated amount of nonhighway recreational fuel use in each State: fuel used for off-road recreation by snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, off-road motorcycles, and off-road light trucks.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and its contractor, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), developed a model to estimate the amount of nonhighway recreational fuel use and the relative shares among the States. See Fuel Used for Off-Road Recreation: A Reassessment of the Fuel Use Model, Report No. ORNL/TM-1999/100, at

The model estimates nonhighway recreational fuel use based on the four major kinds of off-highway recreational activity:

National Nonhighway Recreational Fuel Use

At present, there is no reliable national model to calculate the actual amount of nonhighway recreational fuel use in the United States. The primary purpose of the ORNL model (described above) was to distribute funds among the States; the model was not intended to be an estimate of actual national nonhighway recreational fuel use.

The ORNL report noted that the few States that had nonhighway recreational fuel use information available had used various methods to develop their estimates. Therefore, ORNL developed an independent model using national sources, rather than depending on varying methods from the States.

Some western States have estimated nonhighway recreational fuel use to distribute State funds received in State highway trust funds that would be attributable to nonhighway recreational fuel use. The State estimates, if summed and extrapolated, would result in a higher national figure than the ORNL estimate. Therefore, it is probable that the ORNL estimate is a low estimate of nonhighway recreational fuel use. Although the ORNL model is useful for distributing RTP funds among the States, it may not represent the actual total nonhighway recreational fuel use in the United States.

Comparison of Nonhighway Recreational Fuel Use Estimates for FY 2008 and FY 2011

Vehicle Type Fuel Use Estimate for FY 2008 Apportionments (gallons)
Based on 1997 TIUS
FY 2008 Percent Fuel Use Estimate for FY 2011 Apportionments (gallons)
Based on 2002 VIUS
FY 2011 Percent
Light Truck 1,379,620,970 73.2 63,866,208 10.5
Off-Highway Motorcycle 184,380,900 9.8 78,647,000 13.0
All-Terrain Vehicle 173,426,400 9.2 315,883,800 52.0
Snowmobile 146,505,368 7.8 148,770,051 24.5
Total Nonhighway Recreational Fuel Use 1,883,933,638 100.0 607,167,059 100.0

The Federal excise tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents per gallon. Of this, 2.86 cents goes to the Mass Transit account and 0.1 cents goes to the Leaking Underground Storage Trust fund. The Federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) receives 15.44 cents.

One of the original concepts for the Recreational Trails Program was that program should return a portion of HTF revenue attributable to nonhighway recreational fuel use to the trail users paying into the system.

Based on the 1997 TIUS, the HTF revenue attributable to nonhighway recreational fuel use (at 15.44 cents per gallon) was $290,879,354.

Based on the 2002 VIUS, the HTF revenue attributable to nonhighway recreational fuel use (at 15.44 cents per gallon) was $93,746,594. However, this figure should be considered a low (floor) estimate; the actual national figure is probably much higher, but cannot be calculated with certainty.

Updated: 2/18/2016
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