The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission plans to start taking applications at the end of this week from localities that want to add to Northwest Indiana's network of hike and bike trails.
At a meeting Thursday, NIRPC Transportation Planning Manager Mitch Barloga told local officials about several changes that should expand the geographic reach of the Transportation Alternatives Program in the three counties.
Full consideration will now be given to projects in the three-counties' less populated areas because of their importance in connecting regional trail networks, Barloga said. In the past, the program focused more on projects within urbanized areas.
"We want to make sure we give them their due," Barloga told members of NIRPC's Ped Pedal and Paddle committee and others.
NIRPC will also be drawing up a seven-year plan for expanding the trail network, which should make more money available upfront for significant trail projects. In the past, plans were drawn up year by year.
A better planning process will be important because the transportation bill passed by Congress two years ago effectively cut funding for trails in half. For NIRPC, that means it now receives about $1 million per year in funding for trails, as compared to about $2 million per year under the previous transportation bill.
That money provides up to 80 percent of the funding for local trail project, with localities kicking in the other 20 percent.
Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties now have 130 miles of paved trails for pedestrians and bicyclists.
NIRPC also intends to take applications for Safe Routes to Schools projects as well as historic and environmental projects under the same program.