LINCOLN — Bicycle enthusiasts in Nebraska and Iowa can breathe easy: Both
states have decided to continue using federal funds earmarked for bicycle trails
for that purpose.
Under the new federal highway bill, states were allowed to opt out of the
federal recreational trails program and use that money instead for general
highway maintenance and construction.
But cyclists' fears that roads might trump trails were groundless, at least
Rick Sanders, president of the 85-member Bellevue Bike Club, said he is
grateful. Members of his club, as well as other bicyclers, had lobbied to retain
the state programs, as well as federal funding.
“We're probably one of the most fiscally conservative states in the Union,”
Sanders said. “Having our governor step up for trails is good for the cause.”
Gov. Dave Heineman, along with the Nebraska Department of Roads, recently
decided to continue with the program, which provides about $1 million a year in
grants to communities to build trails for bikes, hikers, snowmobiles and horses.
“We did not feel that there was any reason to take that money away,” said
Mary Jo Oie, a spokeswoman for the Roads Department. “It has been, and continues
to be, a quality program.”
Iowa also has decided to continue using its federal trails money for trails,
though it still might officially opt out. By doing that, the state might be able
to keep about $14,000 now retained by the federal government as an
administration fee, according to Craig Markley of the Iowa Department of
“We're still doing our due diligence so we're sure there's not going to be
any downside” to opting out, Markley said.
Iowa gets about $1.4 million a year from the federal government for its
recreational trails program. The administration fee amounts to 1 percent.
Paul Trombino III, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation, will
make the decision by Sept. 1 — the deadline to notify federal officials if a
state wants to opt out.
If Iowa does opt out, it would be under no obligation to use its money for
trails, but the state agency has made the commitment to do that, Markley said.
The Federal Highway Administration sends about $85 million a year to the
states, which award matching grants to local communities to build recreational
trails. A spokeswoman said the agency won't know until Sept. 1 how many states
will opt in or out.
Recent recipients of recreational trail grants in Nebraska include:
Bellevue/Sarpy County, to extend a concrete trail to the Quail Creek and
Lakewood Village neighborhoods; Lincoln, to replace asphalt trails in Pioneers
Park with concrete; and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, for a machine to
groom cross-country ski trails at Ponca and Niobrara State Parks, and at Lewis
and Clark Lake.
The trails program has been in operation in Nebraska since 1996, according to
Michelle Stryker of the state Game and Parks Commission, which coordinates the
The new federal highway bill, dubbed the MAP-21 bill (for “Moving Ahead for
Progress in the 21st Century”), merged programs that dealt with recreational
trails into a new program, “transportation alternatives.”
But under lobbying by trail groups, Congress retained a line item for
recreational trails, with the caveat that states had the right to opt out of
continuing to use the money for trails.
Sanders, the Bellevue bicyclist, said he knows club members who commute to
the U.S. Strategic Command headquarters on bikes from Papillion on a concrete
bike trail. He and his wife, Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders, biked to the College
World Series this summer, parking in a bike corral across the street from TD
Overall, he said, recreational trails help promote healthy lifestyles and
provide a pathway for commuters. Young people, Sanders said, look for trails
when picking a place to live.
“Trails are becoming part of what's expected in a metropolitan community,” he