Trails Legislation in Congress
The Kansas congressional delegation has pursued legislation that would interfere with railbanking-- the process by which state and local entities save abandoned rail corridors, typically for use as public trails. Although railbanking survived recent congressional actions, attacks are expected to continue.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) offered an amendment to the Senate ISTEA bill that would have required all local governments along a proposed rail-trail to approve the project. But pressure from trail advocates and congressional colleagues resulted in a compromise amendment requiring half of local governments to take formal action opposing a rail-trail in order to stop it. State-sponsored projects would not be subject to the requirement. While the provision, now part of the Senate-passed ISTEA bill, places the burden of stopping a project on opponents, it is still an obstacle and cause for concern.
After failing to garner support for his Railway Abandonment Clarification Act (H.R. 2438) last year, Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) sought House Resources Committee approval for a revised version which would allow state property rights laws to override the federal railbanking statute. Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) was expected to offer an even more extreme substitute for the measure during a March 12 subcommittee markup, but opposition from some members and questions over jurisdiction resulted in the bill being pulled from the agenda. Rep. Ryun is reportedly redrafting his legislation with the goal of House consideration this session.
For more information on the Recreational Trails Program, contact Denise Coulter Obert, National Recreation and Park Assoc. (703) 858-2184; e-mail: email@example.com
BESTEA, the House ISTEA reauthorization proposal, was passed by a vote of 337-80 on April 1. Despite controversy over minority contracting rules and the demonstration projects widely criticized as pork, the $218 billion dollar bill passed. The dramatically increased funding levels over the previous ISTEA bill continue to draw criticism from the legislators concerned about a balanced budget.
Like the Senate's bill (ISTEA 2), BESTEA greatly increases funding for the Enhancements Program-- an average of $650 million annually, totaling $3.9 billion over six years, compared to $2.2 billion during ISTEA. BESTEA increases CMAQ funding as well, to $1.752 billion per year, up 75 percent over ISTEA. However, BESTEA allows states to transfer 50% of all enhancements funds over $450 million annually to highway programs.
BESTEA also includes changes to Enhancements categories by adding four new eligible activities: 1. Safety and educational activities for bicyclists and pedestrians
2. Tourist and welcome centers
3. Wildlife crossings where roads have disrupted migratory patterns
4. Graffiti and litter removal
Another new component in BESTEA is a set-aside for Transit Enhancements, a program that would provide funding for bicycle and pedestrian access to and circulation within transit stations.
The National Discovery Trails Act amends the National Trails System Act to create a new long-distance trail category and authorize the American Discovery Trail as the first of these new trails. The Senate version of the bill was passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and will go to the full Senate in late April. The House bill is awaiting action in the House Resources Committee. Congressional support for the bills gives advocates hope that the final Act will pass easily and be sent to the President for signature in time for National Trails Day.
For information on the National Discovery Trails Act contact Reese Lukei (800) 851-3442.