“Shovel-Ready” Trail Stimulus

This editorial appears in the December issue of OTM. The more discussion we get about active transportation projects in stimulus bills the more likely they are to be included.

“Shovel–ready” is my favorite new catch phrase. The term is meant to denote a project that is ready to put bodies to work the instant funds are released, no further planning necessary. Smart municipalities are constantly updating and cataloguing their transportation projects to meet the shovel-ready criteria and that’s why any economic stimulus package that goes through will have a big transportation component meant to create jobs immediately.

If you love active transportation (walking and biking) this is an incredible opportunity. Across the country, communities are promoting active transportation like never before and there is good chance many shovel-ready active transportation projects could be funded by an economic stimulus package. The Spokane Regional Transportation Council has identified five local projects that are shovel ready: 1) The Fish Lake Trail, 2) 5-Mile Prairie Bike Lanes, 3) Ben Burr East Central Trail Extension, 4) Iron Bridge, and 5) Downtown Spokane Bicycle Improvements which includes lanes and parking. All of these could probably be done for the cost of a few days worth of concrete on the North-South Freeway, Spokane County’s current number one transportation priority.

The fact that the SRTC has such an excellent list of bike/ped projects ready to go is an astounding turnaround from 18 months ago when the organization almost didn’t send a representitive to the National Rails-To-Trails Conference—one of the biggest bike/ped gatherings in the country—when it happened in our own backyard, Portland, Oregon. Clearly active transportation is becoming a higher priority here.

But funding is far from a done deal. There are three stimulus proposals that could affect Spokane: a possible state stimulus, a possible federal lame-duck bill this month, and an almost certain federal stimulus when the new administration takes office in 2009. Jeff Sele, Manager of Government affairs at SRTC, calls it “A perfect storm of transportation funding.” But he also warns that the criteria for funding is far from certain. Now is the time to contact your municipalities and tell them you want active transportation projects funded, specifically Mark Richards and Todd Meilke, the County Commissioners who sit on the SRTC board. It wouldn’t hurt to contact Greater Spokane Incorporated as well, as they have one of the biggest lobbying operations on behalf of Spokane. If we could get these projects done now and get SmartRoutes 2010 funding our bike/ped infrastructure could leapfrog cities like Boulder, Colorado.

I like to think big.


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