Circuit Coalition’s Proposal
Last month, the Circuit Coalition made public comment at the May meeting of the Board of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. The Circuit Coalition asked the Board to prioritize the connectivity of trail and active transportation networks. It asked that the five SEPA counties incentivize the acceleration and maintenance of this infrastructure to make it safer, more accessible, and more convenient to walk and bike; and to ultimately create more equitable economic and quality-of-life opportunities for everyone who lives here.
This recommendation was made on the heels of an action alert that yielded over 400 letters sent by residents to county elected officials asking the same thing. They asked their county leaders to work together creatively allocate at least $10M in discretionary federal funds, such as the Carbon Reduction Program or even Surface Transportation Funds for each state toward specific large scale Circuit projects in future amendments to, or in upcoming versions of the PA and NJ TIPs. (Not too late to send a letter to your county leaders if you haven’t already!)
This recommendation is not a request for one time allocations, but instead to develop large, regionally significant projects over time, such as 10-12 years, similar to how roads and bridges are designed, ROW secured for and constructed. This type of allocation of funding is critical in order for the Delaware Valley Region to meet its 2050 Long Range Plan goal to build out the full network by 2040 (p. 73) and 500 miles by 2025.
In the last 12 years, the region has added over 150 miles of Circuit Trails and when the currently 30+ miles of funded trails are accounted for, the Region will have 410 miles of trails, which is over 40% of the Circuit Trails Network funded for or built. That’s a huge accomplishment and one that the Circuit Coalition members applaud the counties for making possible. However, the Region is at an inflection point with new federal funds being made available that make it possible for it to make itself a stronger and more resilient region that continues to grow to better accommodate the number of people walking and bicycling safely for transportation, recreation and community connectivity.
The DVRPC responded to this public comment with the following.
As stated in DVRPC’s Long Range Plan, Connections 2050, DVRPC supports the goal of the Circuit Trails Coalition to complete the buildout of the full 800-mile network by 2040, and we are working with regional, state, federal, not-for-profit, and philanthropic partners to help make this happen. Thanks to this partnership, your continued advocacy, and the additional transportation funds made available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), we currently have an unprecedented level of funding to support trails, bike, and pedestrian projects. Yet, available funding still does not fully meet the needs of the region, as the Coalition has also identified, and additional challenges impede the ability to create a pipeline of funding eligible projects.
Regarding the request for DVRPC to “work together to creatively allocate at least $10M in discretionary federal funds, such as the Carbon Reduction Program or even Surface Transportation Funds for each state toward specific large scale Circuit projects in future amendments to, or in upcoming versions of the PA and NJ TIPs.”
DVRPC has scheduled a series of meetings with its county and other stakeholders to develop a funding approach. These discussions will include evaluation of the funding streams mentioned in the public comment.
TIP: The development of the Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs) is a collaborative process in which DVRPC‘s member governments are directly engaged. Regionally, we set priorities to carry out goals identified in the Long-Range Plan, Connections 2050, and meet federally required performance measures. The draft document is subject to air quality conformity analysis and subject to public comment.
CMAQ: In PA, currently, $10 million of Congestion Management and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding is allocated to the Circuit Line Item MPMS 105291.
TASA: The current round of the PA TASA program, now accepting applications, has approximately $16 million available in regional funding, of which Circuit Trails are eligible. The regional apportionment of PA TASA funds has almost doubled from the first four years of the FY21 PA TIP. We are expecting over $32 million of TASA funds in our regional allocation over four years due to increases from the IIJA, and we expect more funded projects for our region from the statewide allocation, depending on project competitiveness.
The Carbon Reduction Program (CRP) funds are a new addition to the available mix of competitive funding sources. Trails are eligible projects, but funds must be spent on projects that are consistent with regional and state carbon reduction strategies (CRS). DVRPC will be working with our member governments and DOT partners in FY2024 to develop regional CRS’s for our PA and NJ counties. In addition to being consistent with state CRS’s, the regional CRS must also align with the Justice40 policy, requiring at least forty percent of the benefits of this fund go to disadvantaged communities. Projects funded with FY23 CRP funds must be able to be obligated by September 30, 2026.
Other federal funds: There are also trail and active transportation projects in both states that are programmed with various federal funds. For example, the Spring Garden Street Greenway project is programmed on the FY23 PA TIP with $26 million of STU funds.
DVRPC looks forward to more discussions on how we can all move Circuit Trail projects forward, and plans to have more in depth conversation at forthcoming PA TIP subcommittee meetings. Thank you for your continued collaboration in building the Circuit and raising awareness about the need for improved bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
Our response to DVRPC’s response. CMAQ and TASA are effectively grant programs that sponsors must apply for. They are one time grants and generally are limited in scale and tend to be made after the sponsor has raised all of the other funds for the project. What we are proposing is that DVPRC use funds from a federal fund over a 10-12 period and fully fund a large Circuit project from the design to final construction, just like how roads and bridges are funded and built. We will continue our advocacy to convince county leaders and their staff, and DVPRC staff to use Carbon Reduction Program funds to build large scale trail projects.