Update: Feb. 21, 2011 — NWAOnline.com reports that the $15 million was cut early Saturday, according to a staff member of US Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. Part of $60 billion in spending cuts, it goes next to the US Senate.
Feb. 16, 2011 — Republicans in Congress are targeting the Razorback Greenway in Arkansas as the type of pork they want to trim from the budget.
They're putting a $15 million pledge from the US Department of Transportation on the chopping block along with $61 billion in cuts they're considering, reports a local newspaper, the Times Record.
The 36-mile-long bike trail in northwestern Arkansas would connect the towns of Fayetteville, Bentonville, Rogers, Lowell, Springdale, and Johnson. The project, with a total cost of $40 million raised from local sources, was expected to be completed in 2012.
The Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks is rallying opposition to the spending cut. According to the BCO website:
“…Many of our lawmakers do not realize that bicycle-friendly infrastructure not only produces more jobs per dollar, but also helps folks get to work more efficiently than any other mode of transport. Your voice for bicycle transportation in the bill is vital.”
The BCO website gives contact information of local representatives.
The Times Record tracked down one of the area's congressmen, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers. He's in favor of the project, but won't save the $15 million federal grant:
“As much as I hate to say it, there will have to be a local response. If the trail is something critical to the future of the region, northwest Arkansas will find a way to accomplish it.”
The loss of federal funding might threaten a matching grant issued by the Walton family, owner of Wal-Mart which is based in one of the communities served by the Razorback Greenway.
Local and philanthropic funds already paid for 14.2 miles of the greenway, and the federal grant along with money from other philanthropic sources were needed to complete the bikeway, according to the Tiger II stimulus funding grant information :
“Currently only three percent of residents in the area walk, bike or use transit. According to projections, completion of the Greenway could triple the number of non-automobile trips by providing access to major employers like Wal-Mart HQ, Tyson Foods HQ, JB Hunt HQ, and the University of Arkansas. All six city mayors and many area companies back the Greenway project as a valuable example of bicycle and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure.”
The $15 million was among the discretionary funds included in TIGER II grants pledged by the Department of Transportation last year. As Congress didn't approve the current year's budget, the government is operating under a “continuing resolution” and some proposed expenditures are subject to elimination.
Ken Orski recently wrote at The Cascadia Prospectus that “'executive earmarks' like the TIGER grants” will come under greater scrutiny by the new Congress.
Several nationwide bicycle advocacy groups earlier this week issued a warning that they might be calling on members to contact their congressmen to prevent widespread funding cuts to bicycling and pedestrian programs.