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As State DOTs Receive Surprise $, Risk and Opportunity for Safe Streets

11:15 AM EDT on August 20, 2012

Heads up, advocates. Last week the White House released more than $470 million in unspent transportation earmarks, turning it over to state DOTs to use at their discretion. Now states have to decide by October 1 what projects will receive funding, according to a press release from the White House.

The news should be taken as a challenge for advocates of biking and walking, says Network blog WashCycle. Will the money be channeled toward healthy modes? In the DC region, it's going to be interesting:

It appears that each state will be able to redirect these earmarks towards any project they want - instead of what they were earmarked for. This could be good for cyclists, if money that was sitting unspent quickly finds its way to eligible bike/ped projects. But it could also be bad if money already earmarked for bike projects get redirected to other items. And there are such earmarks at risk now.

In DC, things can probably only get better, but then DC isn't sitting on much money. There's only $56,000 in play - money that appears to be left over from the 9th Street NE bridge and South Capital Street projects. I don't think that the second project includes the South Capital Street Trail, but if so, bike advocates should ensure that it stays there. If it's truly left over money, $56k could buy a lot of bike racks or a new CaBi station.

But it's Virginia where the real risk - and opportunity - lies. With nearly $10M in earmarks, there is a lot of money in play. Unfortunately, much of that money is already set aside for biking, which means that it could be lost. Top of the list is $983,928 for land acquisition for the pedestrian trail "over the George Washington Memorial Bridge" which I assume is for a new connection to the Mt Vernon Trail.  We should make sure that isn't lost. Also in Arlington County, there's $390,000 for the Jefferson Davis Highway (Rt 1) Improvements, $79,000 for Columbia Pike Improvements and $60,000 for the South Glebe Road improvements, any of which may include bike infrastructure. There's another $983,928 for Fairfax County Trail improvements in Great Falls.

All of this money is now in play - and at the state level, and that may not be good. This is all kind of new and so it's impossible to know what will happen. Virginia's DOT has been asked about it, but they aren't yet ready to answer.

To see how much money your state got, the Federal Highway Administration has the details.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Political Environment explains that a Wisconsin smart growth group is pushing a state constitutional amendment that would redirect some spending from highways to local roads. Bike Walk Lee (County) joins Florida's advocacy groups in calling on the state department of transportation to dedicate all the federal money available to bike and walking, and help address the state's shameful distinction as the deadliest for pedestrians and cyclists. And Bike Beat Blog questions the Connecticut Department of Transportation's pledge to prioritize cycling safety after a street closure leaves bike riders with no good options.

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