Federal Highway Bill President Signs Today Mixed Bag for Park Visitors

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   August 10, 2005
Contact:   Laura Loomis, NPCA, 202-454-3918; 703-447-6484 (cell)


Federal Highway Bill President Signs Today Mixed Bag for Park Visitors

WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Bush signs into law today the $286 billion federal transportation bill passed by Congress at the end of July. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) says the bill is a mixed bag for the millions who visit the national parks—with funding included to develop new and expanded ways for visitors to get around the parks, but not nearly enough to restore the roads running through the parks and to make them safer.

With this bill Congress stiffed the president and millions of park visitors by not providing enough funding for the National Park Service to dig out of their enormous backlog of road maintenance needs. With the president’s signature, the Park Service will get $1.05 billion to address park roads—nearly 75 percent shy of the increase the U.S. Senate and the Bush administration said was needed in May. According to estimates, roughly half of the Park Service’s multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog is accounted for in road repair needs in the national parks.

“The enormity of the backlog means that even the funding the president and the Senate recommended for park roads would have fallen short of meeting the entire need,” said NPCA Vice President for Government Affairs Craig Obey. “But those proposals would have made a genuine impact in reducing the backlog—this funding barely enables the Park Service to keep pace with inflation.”

More than half of the president’s pledge to eliminate the National Park Service’s $4.9 billion backlog and to “restore and renew” the national parks hinged upon this transportation bill.

“Now that the opportunity has been lost, it is even more important that Congress seize the opportunity to pass the National Park Centennial Act,” said Obey.

A bipartisan group of more than 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are co-sponsoring the National Park Centennial Act (H.R. 1124 and S.886), legislation that if passed would provide much-needed funding for national park maintenance and natural and cultural preservation needs. This new funding would be provided in part through a voluntary check-off on individual federal income tax returns and would give Americans a genuine say in the protection of our national parks.

The federal highway bill also authorizes the alternative transportation in parks and public lands program, which provides approximately $24 million annually for four years to develop new and expanded mass transit services, pedestrian walkways, and bike paths within and near the national parks and other public lands. Led by Senator Paul S. Sarbanes (D-MD) and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-3-W.VA)—and made official today by President Bush—the alternative transportation program will allow the Park Service to adopt shuttle bus transportation systems, pedestrian walkways, bike paths, or waterborne access to provide visitors with improved access to the national parks.

“Congressman Rahall and Senator Sarbanes are champions for our national parks and for the 300 million people who visit annually,” said Obey. “Thanks to their leadership, the National Park Service can afford to bring relief to parks and visitors suffering from traffic congestion and choking on fumes.”

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