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Congress Passed Infrastructure Funding: What it Means for Trails

Posted by cgiampetro at Nov 10, 2021 05:15 PM |

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act just passed through Congress, and this secures support for trails across the country, including Washington.

After months of effort, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) in the waning hours of Friday, Nov. 5. There’s been plenty of noise about the bill, and it covers a lot of ground — including for trails. The bill is now headed to the president for his signature. This legislation is closely tied to another ongoing piece of legislation — the Build Back Better Act — which Congress is currently debating and that could further help trails.

Trails, the roads that help us access them, and the recreation sites we use are part of infrastructure. This bill includes many provisions that may impact trails, and we want to make sure that you know how this legislation might impact hikers and public lands in the future.

A winding road takes you into Olympic National Park, with forest surrounding it and mountains beyond it.When you hear infrastructure, you might think roads. But roads are just one piece of infrastructure investments that go into public lands. Photo by Spencer Roleke.

What’s in the bill?

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act encompasses more than $1 trillion in investments in American infrastructure and related projects. It funds and invests in a wide swath of policies and programs, including child care, tax credits, technology, health care and climate-related policies. There are also many provisions that will impact trails, now and in the future. Here’s what we know is in the bill:

    • A win for the Legacy Roads and Trails program, a key priority for WTA! This bill’s investment into the Legacy Roads and Trails (LRT) program will help national forests improve their roads, trails and recreation sites, all while making public lands more ecologically resilient. The LRT program has long been a priority for WTA’s federal advocacy. This version of the program is funded at $250 million until 2026, and sets guidelines for how the funding can be used. These guidelines could allow projects such as relocating national forest system roads and trails to respond to changing conditions, converting national forest system roads to trails, restoring fish passages, decommissioning closed roads, and improving trails and bridges to withstand extreme weather events. The bill also includes a process to ensure public input is reflected in projects. The Build Back Better bill, currently being debated in Congress, would fund the LRT program at $450 million if it passes.
    • More funding for trails: The bill includes $2.13 billion of ecological restoration funding. This money is intended to help the Departments of Interior and Agriculture care for recreation sites on federal land that receive more visitation than they can currently handle. Provisions also include funding ($20 million) for DOI-owned cabin repair as well as increasing staffing capacity.
    • More money and new studies to support using trails as a mode of transportation: The Surface Transportation Grant Program, of which the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) is a part of, will see increasing funding in coming years. The Recreational Trails Program is a critical program supporting the maintenance of backcountry trails. While the program does not receive an increase in funding itself, the bill does require the study of an appropriate level of funding for RTP, given that it is funded by the taxes that people pay on gas. This study would help us advocate for adequate RTP funding in the future. Additionally, the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program is a new program that will receive $200 million. It helps to create active transportation networks, like cycling and walking corridors, that include increasing access to recreation areas. 
    • More money to help prepare for climate change: The bill provides billions of dollars to help ecosystems withstand wildfires better and to pay for post-fire restoration. These investments help keep public lands safe, healthy and sustainable for recreationists. They also keep local economies that benefit from recreation safe and able to bounce back from harmful wildfire impacts.

What’s next for this bill

The legislation will soon be signed into law by the president. After he does so, some of the funding must be appropriated by Congress through agreed upon spending bills. Many of these provisions require agencies to provide details on how they’ll manage the money.

Congress is also currently debating the Build Back Better bill, which is closely tied to this legislation. The Build Back Better bill spends money on the same things as the Infrastructure and Investments Jobs Act, but with increased funding in some places, like the Legacy Roads and Trails. Congressional leaders are looking to hold votes on that bill in the coming days and weeks.

As we move forward, these investments should support the necessary infrastructure for trails and public lands, while also preparing to stand the test of time and a changing climate. WTA is invested in federal work that results in support for trails. We work at the national level to pass legislation that will do things like reduce deferred maintenance logs within the Forest Service, bring our land management agencies funding to administer adequate staffing, and increase access to public lands for all.

Implementing all of these programs will require public input, and we want to ensure the voice of hikers will be well represented! Join our Trail Action Network for all the latest on Congress, infrastructure, and policies that will impact public lands and trails.

Act now

You can also act now to thank your federal legislators for including policy that supports trails within the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that supports trails, with a cheat sheet of those inclusions listed above. Feel free to use language like:

  • Public lands and trails are good for my mind, body, and heart — and I am thankful Congress continues investing in the outdoors.
  • Programs like Legacy Roads and Trails and the Recreational Trails Program are essential to maintaining access to public lands. I am happy to see funding for these programs in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 
  • Funding to ensure the outdoors are maintained, healthy, and accessible is important to me. Thank you for including funding for public lands.

Use WTA's advocacy toolkit to find contact information for Washington senators and your district's House member. Make sure to identify your representatives at the federal level and not the state, as this act was passed through U.S. Congress. Once you know your representatives and how to reach them, sharing a thank you can affirm how much support for public lands really does mean to their constituents. Find your federal reps!