City faces strong competition for TAP grant to expand bike/pedestrian routes
Recently, Stevens Point decided it will pursue a federal grant to paint 13.16 miles of bike lanes and place signage along city streets in an effort to clearly define bike routes through the city and connect destination areas with the routes.
Stevens Point’s newly-formed Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee learned about the federally-funded, state-administered Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) grant in early December and worked diligently to meet the deadline at the end of January.
“The importance and popularity of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure around the state is evidenced by the fact that the demand for TAP funding was four times greater than the amount available,” said Tori Jennings, Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee chair. “TAP is one of the only funding sources available to the city to support biking and walking improvements, something Stevens Point desperately needs if it wants to increase safety and create a multimodal transportation network to serve residents, businesses and visitors in the 21st Century.”
However, the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee’s grant application faces strong competition as the demand for TAP funding far exceeds available funds after recent cuts and refocusing of dollars.
Cities, towns and villages across Wisconsin have collectively asked for $62.6 million to make walking and biking safer for their residents, a demand four times greater than the amount of money the state made available through the federal TAP grant, according to figures released by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Bike paths and pedestrian crosswalks in Stevens Point, Plover and dozens of other communities will compete for the $7.5 million in TAP funds budgeted in each of the 2016-17 state fiscal years.
Most of the projects are scheduled to begin in 2018, as part of a four-year funding cycle.
More than a half-dozen groups devoted to improving the health and quality of life in Wisconsin are collaborating to highlight the huge gap between the demand for these projects and the priorities of state leaders.
“Stevens Point faces an impossibly difficult task as it attempts to meet operating expenses and economic development needs,” Jennings said. “For example, the state of Wisconsin precludes the city from increasing any additional costs without cutting other services or employees. At the same time, the governor and state legislators have reduced available TAP funding to local municipalities by diverting $9 million of the potential TAP dollars to fund road projects – which is not the intended use of the money.
“Consequently, small communities such as Stevens Point are simultaneously not allowed to raise funds to invest in improvements, but must nonetheless compete against nearly impossible odds for a dwindling supply of grant dollars,” she said.
In recent years, the DOT has spent less than half of the $16 million available for walking and biking improvements through the Federal Highway Administration program.
Instead, legislators and the governor redirected about $9 million of the potential Transportation Alternatives money to road projects and other uses.
Overall, the $7.5 million the state does allocate for walking and biking improvements through TAP represents approximately 1 percent of the $677 million it receives for local transportation support.
The 2015-17 biennial budget further diminished support for non-motorized transportation, when the Wisconsin Legislature eliminated $1 million in state money previously allocated to the Transportation Alternatives Program.
“Our communities are telling us that they want safe walking and biking,” said Steve Elliott, executive director for the Wisconsin Alliance of YMCAs. “Not only is it good for health and safety, it also creates vibrant places where people want to raise families and businesses want to locate.”
The need for alternative transportation support is illustrated by growing rates of obesity, among all age groups. Nearly one of every three adults in the state faces the debilitating and costly effects of obesity, according a recent University of Wisconsin study.
“Without the TAP funds, many local communities simply do not have money to build large projects that make it practical, safe and attractive for youths and adults to walk or ride their bikes,” said Dr. David Allen, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
“These projects are so important because we know that changes in everyday physical activity can make major differences in a person’s risk for obesity related diabetes and other health problems,” said Allen, who is also a physician at American Family Children’s Hospital. “These funds have even more value to Wisconsin families when they support projects that make biking and walking the easy and safe choice, and also connect communities.”
Building connections that provide alternatives to driving is a theme of many TAP applications, not only between communities, but between residents and services.
“As the population ages, it is becoming increasingly vital to ensure older residents can access the services they need in their community. An environment that supports biking and walking helps seniors get around, even when many can’t or don’t want to drive a vehicle anymore,” said Robert J. Kellerman
of the Wisconsin Aging Advocacy Network.
The Safe Routes to Schools Program, which teaches and encourages students in kindergarten through eighth grade to walk or bike to school, also depends on TAP dollars.
“I talk to school leaders all across the state, and one of the things always on their minds is student health and safety,” said Jessica Binder, program manager for the Wisconsin Bike Federation. “Safe Routes to School helps achieve both goals. Without more funds, local schools are having a tough time encouraging students to walk or bike, something we all grew up doing.”
Although cities, towns and villages have shown a willingness to support alternative transportation through the high demand for TAP grant money, the Wisconsin Legislature continues to reroute the funds to other projects for automobile infrastructure.