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2013 Recreational Trails Program Annual Report

Table of contents

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Executive Summary

Trail bridges crossing highway

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is leading the United States in developing a surface transportation system to move people and goods in a safe, accountable, flexible, efficient, and environmentally responsible manner. FHWA’s partnerships and programs benefit communities, enhance the quality of life for Americans, and assure access for all to the Nation’s transportation network and to recreational activities.

The Recreational Trails Program (RTP) is a Federal-aid assistance program of the FHWA to help the States provide and maintain recreational trails for both motorized and nonmotorized trail use. The purpose of the program is to provide funds in support of a wide variety of trail activities and related facilities, as well as environmental education and safety programs.

The 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), and reauthorized again in 2005 through the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). The RTP is included in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), the transportation reauthorization bill signed by President Obama on July 6, 2012.

MAP-21 reauthorized the RTP through Federal fiscal years 2013 and 2014 as a set aside from the new Transportation Alternatives Program.

The 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 RTP is paid primarily by motorized recreation vehicle use, resources are shared among all users of recreational trails to develop a balanced system.

Over 20 years, RTP funding has grown to represent a more equitable portion of the total fuel taxes paid by nonhighway recreationists, although that portion is still less than 42 percent of the total taxes paid annually by nonhighway recreationists.

The RTP database reveals that over 17,000 RTP-funded projects have been documented nationwide. Annual funding is currently up to $84 million, as approved under MAP-21. Since 1991, the RTP has apportioned nearly $1 billion in Federal funding to the States for local project funding.

In addition to the benefits of the funding spent on trail projects, there have been two additional important results of the RTP:

  1. Every State has established its own State trail program with a designated administrator for assistance on trail issues and coordination of trail planning.
  2. Because the funds are distributed for both motorized and nonmotorized trail work, all trail interests have had an incentive to cooperate and learn from each other.

Learn more about MAP-21 at:

RTP is the glue that helps connect trail systems in state parks and other outdoor spaces all across America… RTP builds trails that wouldn't get built any other way.
--Bill Bryan, Director, Missouri State Parks; Legislative Committee Chair,
National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD)
Updated: 3/21/2014
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