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Federal Highway Bill Funding

The 2005 Federal Highway Bill (SAFETEA-LU) includes several provisions that could provide millions in new funding for land trusts. In particular, since 1992 the Transportation Enhancements program has provided over $10 billion for projects such as:  acquisition of scenic or historic easements and sites, conversion of abandoned railway corridors to trails and environmental mitigation of highways.

Transportation Enhancements

SAFETEA-LU retains the Transportation Enhancements Program (TEP) and provides approximately $630 million annually for the program, a 40 percent increase over the 1997 ISTEA level. These funds are used for such activities as creation of greenways, trails, and bike paths, and purchase of conservation easements on or fee title of open spaces, scenic vistas, or historical areas along highways.

Transferability

States can transfer only a maximum of 25 percent of new TEP funding to new projects. The bill totally protects TEP funds at the level they received in 1997 state TEP funding. Estimates of the actual amounts indicate that this provision should not be much of a concern for program users, such as land trusts.

Cost-Share Requirements

TEA-21 allows states more flexibility in meeting the TEP cost share requirements. States are now allowed to count funds and the value of services from other federal agencies toward the cost-share requirement.

In addition, the non-federal share for a project may be calculated on a project, multiple-project, or program basis. That means that some projects may be completed using 100 percent federal funds, as long as the state's program meets ISTEA's original 20 percent minimum matching requirement. Land trusts can use this change to convince their state departments of transportation to release money for a project without needing to raise additional matching funds, if the program overall meets the required match.

Natural Habitat and Wetlands Mitigation

The Highway Bill encourages the use of natural habitat and wetland mitigation banks instead of on-site mitigation of natural habitat and wetlands disturbed or destroyed during highway construction. These "banks" are areas of conserved habitat or wetlands that states can use to draw credits from when highway construction results in habitat or wetland loss. Land trusts can participate in the creation of such banks, which can often result in more significant conservation benefits than smaller on-site mitigation projects.

Scenic Byways

The Highway Bill formalizes the National Scenic Byways Program and provides $148 million for scenic byways over six years. This is an 85% increase over ISTEA. This program is designed promote the development and use of scenic byways (roads that have regional significance for their scenic, historic, or cultural values) and All-American roads (roads that stand out in the national consciousness for their prominent scenic, historic, or cultural values).

The law authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to make grants for several activities relating to scenic byways including "the protection of scenic, historical, recreational, cultural, natural, and archaeological resources in an area adjacent to a scenic byway." Land trusts can partner with state agencies to access these funds for the purchase of areas within the viewshed of these roadways.

Recreational Trails Fund

The Recreational Trails Fund allows states to provide grants directly to land trusts for the "acquisition of easements and fee simple title to property for recreational trails or recreational trail corridors." All projects require a 20% match from the State, and up to 75% of the 20% match can come from other federal sources. Contact your state trails coordinator or state DOT for more information.

More information

National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse
1100 17th Street, NW, 10th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20036
888-388-6832
Web site: http://www.enhancements.org/

National Scenic Byways Clearinghouse
1440 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20005
202-628-7718
Website: http://www.byways.org/

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June 12: In Historic First, Conservation Tax Incentive Approved by Committee

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