A recent editorial in the Belleville News-Democrat questioned the value of the federal Transportation Alternative Program, which will invest $820 million nationwide, of which $4.7 million will be in the metro-east, on alternative transportation projects.
While $820 million is a significant amount of our federal tax money, it's only 2 percent of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP - 21) budget, which funds surface transportation projects nationwide.
Spending 2 percent of our transportation budget to facilitate an increase in bicycling and walking within our communities provides a sound return on investment because of the benefits received in terms of quality of life, health, air and economic development. Communities are finding that to successfully compete for residents and businesses, bicycle and pedestrian accommodations now are a necessity.
At HeartLands Conservancy, the oldest and largest conservation and environmental organization is Southwestern Illinois, we work closely with communities, residents and businesses to improve bicycling and walking in their communities because they understand and seek the many benefits. This past year communities and schools have testified to us of the importance of bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
One community wrote: "These planned (bicycle and pedestrian) facilities will keep and enhance our community's ability to retain and attract new businesses. This added quality of life is critical in the business decision making process, where to locate or relocate."
A school district wrote: "By surveying our families we have found that parents would enjoy walking and biking to school on a regular basis if sidewalks and streets were safer and more complete."
A survey for the National Association of Realtors found that three-quarters of the public (77 percent) now considers having sidewalks and places to take walks important.
We have many budget choices to make. In celebration of Earth Day today, we hope you will agree that just 2 percent of federal transportation spending is a wise investment to make for vibrant, healthy and sustainable communities. Spend this year's Earth Day taking a walk or bike ride, enjoy the beauty of Southwestern Illinois, and pledge to make walking and/or biking a part of your lifestyle. You, your community and the greater region will all benefit.
Invest in the nature of Southwestern Illinois.
David C. Eustis is president and CEO of HeartLands Conservancy, Mascoutah. The website is: www.HeartLandsConservancy.org