By Tyler Allen, ExploreBigSky.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON D.C. – The new transportation bill, signed into law by President Obama on July 6, solidifies funding for thousands of miles of Montana trails for the next two years.

Called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), the bill will secure $105 billion a year in federal funding through fiscal year 2014. When the bill goes into effect Oct. 1, it will be the first time since 2005 that surface transportation has been federally funded on a multi-year basis.

By authorizing $82 billion in federal funding for road, bridge, bicycle route and walking trail improvements for fiscal years 2013 and 2014, MAP-21 should result in new jobs across the country.

For Montana, it means a slight decrease in federal funding for state transportation projects; however, long-term funding is good news and, “it’s exciting we at least got a multi-year bill,” said Lynn Zanto administrator for the Montana Rail, Transit and Planning Division. State officials are still in the process of determining what the new funding levels will mean for individual transportation programs, Zanto said.

One major project that falls under the transportation bill is the Recreational Trails Program, which funds 50 – 70 trail projects in Montana annually. Under the new bill, RTP will be funded at fiscal year 2009 amounts, resulting in a $200,000 decrease annually in Montana, from $1.5 million to $1.3 million.

Even with the decrease, this is positive news, said Beth Shumate, Trails Program Manager for the state. The program will receive dedicated funding until FY 2014, and RTP will continue to fund important trail projects around the state providing a welcome boost to local economies, she said.

RTP is required to allocate funds for motorized, non-motorized and diversified trails on municipal, county, state, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands. While the funds don’t support new construction on federal lands, they can be used for re-routes or trail maintenance.

Federal, state, county or municipal agencies, private associations and clubs are all eligible for RTP funding. Projects include development of urban trail linkages; trails information; trails-related environmental protection and safety education; development of trailside and trailhead facilities; construction of features to assist disabled individuals; and trail construction and maintenance.

Since there will be $200,000 less to compete for statewide, “the quality of applications [for RTP funding] will be even more important,” Shumate said.

Other eligible projects include weed control on or near trails and restoration of areas damaged by trail use.