Thursday, December 16, 2010

Regional Trail Network Grant Program Launched

Nearly 10 months ago, Philadelphia and Camden won a $23 million federal (TIGER) transportation grant to build ten segments of trails to close gaps on the Schuylkill River Trail, East Coast Greenway, and the Camden Greenways Network. This grant dovetailed nicely with the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources decision to invest some of its Growing Greener funding in closing gaps on major trail "spines" in Pennsylvania, which resulted in several additional projects  receiving planning grants this past fall.   

Recognizing that a completed multi-use trails network could transform the region in multiple ways, the William Penn Foundation conducted a “Regional Trails Scan” in partnership with numerous organizations during 2010 to evaluate the current state of the network, and think strategically about its implementation.  Upon completion, the scan identified and prioritized an interconnected, bi-state trail system centered on the region’s urban core.

In November 2010, the  Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) submitted a proposal to the Foundation to administer a $10 million re-grant and technical assistance program aimed at “filling gaps” in the regional trails network identified by the scan.  On November 15, the William Penn Foundation approved DVRPC’s proposal, and on December 2nd, DVRPC formally accepted the grant.

DVRPC will create a Regional Trails Network Re-Grant and Technical Assistance Program (Regional Trails Program) to provide capital funding and technical support for implementing trails, and will work to build capacity among regional partners.  A Regional Trails Program Advisory Committee will be convened to help guide the program.  The Regional Trails Grant Program will take place over three years.  Eligible activities will include:
  • Design and/or construction of multi-use trails that complete segments of, or close gaps in, the regional trails network; 
  • Technical assistance related to rights-of-way, project management, legal indemnification and trail stewardship;
  • Trail planning and feasibility studies.
The Regional Trails Program will focus primarily on design and construction, project management and stewardship, and technical assistance.  Eligible grantees include government agencies and non-profit organizations involved with trail planning, project management, and construction.

DVRPC will create a database of trail project opportunities and establish criteria for making grant awards.  An emphasis will be placed on completing gaps within the network that have regional significance, especially those that are within or connect to the region’s core.  Project cost and readiness, institutional capacity, community support and leverage will also all be factors in determining grant awards.  

The prospects for closing the major gaps on the Schuylkill River Trail and East Coast Greenway, and creating a world class Regional Trail Network, have never looked better.  This new grant program is a tremendous shot in the arm for trails because most of the federal transportation funding normally available for such projects (such as Transportation Enhancement or Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program) has been tapped out for several years.  The TIGER grant is making it possible for 10 trail projects to break ground in 2011, and this new program will make it possible to add more segments to the "under construction" category. Given the uncertainty about what the next federal transportation bill will mean for bike/pedestrian projects, this new source of funding couldn't come at a better time.