Congress Considering Several Bills Affecting Bicycle Projects

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By Charles Pekow — The future of federal funding for bicycle projects is not on the ground but up in the air as Congress went into August recess. The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee approved a bill for FY 24 severely cutting funding, while the Democratic-controlled Senate counterpart proved more generous. Neither house has scheduled a vote and it’s not clear if anything will be settled by the start of FY 24, Oct. 1.

The House bill would zero out RAISE Grants, while the Senate bill would continue them. The recent round of grants funded $800 million in projects, many of which are designed to improve bicycle safety (see Cycling West’s 2023 Summer issue). The Senate bill would continue the program.

The Senate report would also direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to study how side underride guards on autos might protect bike riders.

RAISE Grants help cities and other municipalities to build bicycle infrastructure, like rural bike paths. Photo by Howard Shafer

Both bills contain some specific earmarks, though. Both bills include $1 million for the Steamboat Springs Workforce Housing Pedestrian and Bicycle Connection Project in Steamboat Springs, CO. The House bill includes $850,000 for a bike/ped bridge over State Highway 83 in Colorado, while the Senate bill would fund $800,0000 for the St. Vrain Multimodal Trail in Boulder County, CO.

Meanwhile, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved America’s Outdoor Recreation Act of 2023 (S. 873), which includes a Biking on Long-Distance Trails provision that would create at least 10 bike trails of 80 miles or more on federal land, which could cross boundaries between lands operated by different land management agencies. The trails, however, could not conflict with other uses, such as horseback riding. Federal departments would get two years to collaborate on the projects and would provide maps and trail-identification materials.

The bill (https://www.congress.gov/congressional-report/118th-congress/senate-report/79/1) was placed on the Senate calendar, but no vote has been scheduled.

In other congressional developments; the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining; conducted a hearing on S. 1634, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, which would restrict bicycling to “designated roads and trails” in the Proposed Williams Fork Mountains Wildlife Conservation Area. Bicycle riding would also be permitted in the Sheep Mountain Special Management Area, which is undeveloped but not designated as wilderness. The lands lie in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison and San Juan National Forests (https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/senate-bill/1634/text).

Finally, Rep. Melanie Ann Stansbury (D-NM) introduced legislation that would “provide grants for outdoor recreation projects to spur economic development, with a focus on rural communities, and to provide training for rural communities on funding opportunities for outdoor recreation….” The bill must go a long way, though. Stansbury picked up no cosponsors and three committees can consider the bill: Transportation and Infrastructure, Financial Services, and Agriculture.

 

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