TOPEKA — Kansas is one of only two states that has opted out of the federal Recreational Trails Program, officials said Tuesday.
News of the development brought criticism from trail enthusiasts, plus a call to action.
“This opt-out is a blow to Kansas trail development, for sure, but it’s hardly the last word on the subject,” said a posting on the Kansas Cyclist website. “All of us need to contact our elected officials and voice our disappointment with this decision. Tell them we value trails, both as recreation and transportation.”
A Kansas Department of Transportation official said the state opted out to gain more leeway in how it can spend federal dollars.
“It gives us maximum flexibility,” said Chris Herrick, director of planning and development at KDOT.
That flexibility is needed, Herrick said, because under the recently approved federal transportation law, Kansas saw a $26 million reduction in federal funds, from $392 million to $366 million.
Of that amount, $10.3 million was earmarked for what are called transportation alternative projects, Herrick said. Of the $10.3 million, the feds said $1.3 million was to be spent on recreational trails, or states could opt out and a portion of that amount can be spent on other projects, Herrick said.
Kansas and Florida opted out.
He said no decision has been made yet on how to spend that money, and said some of the funds may eventually be spent on recreational trails.
“We haven’t made a decision on where we are going to spend that kind of money,” he said. “We are getting $26 million less from the previous transportation bill. Revenue is tight.”
Keith Laughlin, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, criticized the federal transportation bill, saying it created more ways for states to transfer funds away from hiking and biking trails programs.
Kansas’ decision to opt out, Laughlin said, “was in truth quite a surprise.” He said the group will continue working with state officials in Kansas “to improve future outcomes.”