$200+ Million Proposed for Circuit Trails

Greater Philadelphia could see a huge boost in the development of safe, family-friendly trails, thanks to an innovative use of federal transportation funding proposed in the region’s biennial Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) recently released its draft FY2025 Transportation Improvement Program, which would make multi-use trails in the Circuit Trails network eligible for more than $200 million in federal funding. Much of the money, around $120 million, would come from the Carbon Reduction Program (CRP), part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Across the U.S., TIPs created every two years by regional planning commissions like DVRPC direct the distribution of federal dollars for transit projects. Historically, those funds have been spent almost exclusively on automobile infrastructure like roads and bridges. But with the introduction of CRP funding aimed at reducing carbon pollution from transportation, county leaders in southeast Pennsylvania saw an opportunity to supercharge trail development.

To date, DVRPC’s draft TIP represents the largest proposed allocation of CRP funding for trail projects nationwide, and signifies a broader shift to seeing trails as transit infrastructure. If approved by board members, the money would go toward trail construction in four major corridors: Spring Garden Street Greenway, Cross County Trail, Chester Valley Trail, and the Route 291 Trail, which would become part of the 3000-mile East Coast Greenway.

Leveraging the TIP process to direct funds toward trails has been a longtime goal for PEC Executive Vice President Patrick Starr, who also serves as Chair of the Circuit Trails Coalition. Doing so, he said, would clear away cumbersome obstacles to accomplishing much needed active infrastructure.

“Trail funding has long been a time-consuming and competitive process of seeking project-specific grants that delays trail creation and disadvantages under-resourced communities,” Starr said. “Inclusion in the DVRPC TIP on a corridor basis allows for flexibility as trail development projects advance while guaranteeing that construction funding for fully-designed trails is budgeted in the TIP regional transportation infrastructure capital plan.”

Local, state, and regional leaders celebrated the news at a press conference in Eyre Park in Chester, part of Delaware County. In the background, kids received free bike lessons as part of the fourth Chester Bike Rodeo, an event supported by the Circuit Trails Community Grant Program. Youth Development United, which hosts the event, has provided more than 300 donated-and-refurbished bicycles to neighborhood kids.

“There’s nothing like watching a kid with a smile learning how to ride a bike,” said Pennsylvania Senator John Kane, who also voiced strong support for the trail funding.

Chester is a prime example of how trails can reconnect communities to natural landscapes. For years, Route 291, a major highway that’s currently unsafe for cyclists or pedestrians, has separated people in the area from the Delaware River. But that’s changing as the Circuit grows and more people become aware of the opportunities that trails bring.

“Chester is becoming the destination for biking,” said the town’s mayor, Stefan Roots. “My vision is to make people care about Chester again. We are the riverfront community of the county. And it’s happening.”

Delaware County Council Member Elaine Paul Schaefer called the Route 291 Trail a “poster child” for why it makes sense to use CRP funding for trails. Nearly 38% of residents along the corridor don’t have access to a car and rely on active transportation or public transit.

“[Route 291] connects probably 20 major employers to the city of Chester, and its sister cities. When this is finished, those households will be able to go to work on their bikes safely.”

DVRPC’s proposal creates a model for how other parts of the country can tap Carbon Reduction Program funding for their own active transportation networks, which is a crucial step toward decarbonizing the transportation system. A nationwide increase in connected trails and active transportation infrastructure could reduce emissions by an estimated 12 million tons each year — the equivalent of taking 2.6 million cars off the road.

DVRPC’s proposal builds on the momentum to achieve the Circuit Trail Coalition’s goal of completing 500 miles by 2025. So far, the network offers 411 miles of safe, convenient walking and biking routes.

Public comment is critical to ensuring these trail projects get the green light. The DVRPC’s public comment period runs through June 24 at 5 p.m. Residents across the region are encouraged to comment in support of the TIP proposal. To learn more on how to show your support, visit circuittrails.org/get-involved.