“The funding of pedestrian bridges varies,” says Jim Tymon, director of management and program finance for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “For most transportation projects, the total level of federal investment is about 45 percent. States and localities pay for the major costs of pedestrian bridge projects, and there has certainly been a push at the state and local level for bike and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure.”
When Congress passed the SAFTEA-LU Act in 2005, it created several programs under which pedestrian bridges were eligible for funds, such as the Safe Routes to School Program and the Recreational Trails Program. SAFETEA-LU also authorized the Federal Highway Administration to conduct the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP) to construct networks of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure to demonstrate the extent to which biking and walking can carry a significant part of the transportation load. “Among the broad list of eligible activities, pedestrian bridges fit into this scope,” says Tymon.
But the 2012 federal transportation bill – MAP 21 – eliminated the Safe Routes to School and Recreational Trails set-asides, substituting a new, consolidated program called the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). TAP program funding was reduced by about one third, according to Transportation for America, a transportation advocacy group. “There was an effort to consolidate programs,” says Tymon. “As a result, some programs were flat out eliminated or merged with other programs. But projects such as pedestrian bridges can still be funded when submitted under TAP.”
The 2012 MAP-21 transportation bill needed a general fund transfer of almost $20 billion to supplement declining project resources for the Highway Trust Fund. The Highway Trust Fund is looking at further shortfalls as its main funding source – user fee fuel taxes – declines due to increasingly fuel efficient vehicles. “We still have not solved the funding problem,” says Tymon. “Congress is struggling to come up with a source for revenues to meet the program levels that are established in law.”
For composites companies with an interest in both vehicle and pedestrian bridge projects, it will be important to watch congressional action on the upcoming transportation bill as MAP-21 nears its end in September. “The next bill is in process on the Senate side,” indicates Tymon, “and advocacy at the federal, state and local levels will be critical.”