Wisconsin created the first rail trails in the nation with the Elroy Sparta and Tuscobia Trails in the late 1960s. Our state was the national leader in miles of trails for decades after that. Recently, other states have been investing more in trails and Wisconsin has fallen steadily in the national rankings. We now rank 4th behind Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.
Our neighbors and most states in the country are outpacing us by programming nearly every dollar of federal Transportation Alternatives and other trail funds on the non-motorized projects they were intended for. The national average for all states is 78%, but Wisconsin diverts almost 50% of those funds (about $7 million annually), to highway projects.
It is clear that diverting funds have done little to improve our roads but has dramatically hurt our state in terms of trails. The League of American Bicyclists used to rank Wisconsin 2nd in the country in bicycle friendly states. We are now ranked 29th, again at the bottom of our peer states.
Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funding has been frozen at $7.04 million annually since 2014, despite the state’s ability to provide additional federal dollars to the program. In Governor Evers’ 2021-23 proposed budget, he included a much-needed boost of $1 million to TAP funding in an effort to address the call from communities throughout the state asking for assistance. Despite hearing from Wisconsinites from every corner of the state supporting this $1 million increase, the Republican majority on the Joint Finance Committee rejected the increased funding.
Wisconsin’s bicycle industry includes growing companies Trek, Pacific (Schwinn, GT, Mongoose), Saris, Hayes (Answer, Manitou, Sun Ringle, Wheelsmith), Waterford (Richard Schwinn), Fyxation, Wyatt, 509 Cycles and Borah Teamwear. Some of those growing companies have actually been able to reshore manufacturing jobs from overseas. As the state’s bicycle industry continues to invest in good paying jobs, it is important that our state continue to invest in trails. Between industry and tourism, bicycling accounts for almost 14,000 jobs and adds more than $1.5 billion annually to our state economy.
We ask that the Department of Transportation stop diverting Transportation Alternative and other federal funds for trails to road projects and leave those funds for the non-motorized projects they were created to fund.
Additionally, we ask for increased TAP funding to support the growing need within communities throughout the state.
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