The National Scenic Byways Program is a voluntary, community-based program administered through the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to recognize, protect, and promote America’s most outstanding roads. Through their state departments of transportation, communities can apply for designation as a State or National Scenic Byway.
The National Scenic Byways Program
In 1991, Congress established the program under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and strengthened it further with the passage of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in 1998 and subsequently with the passage of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act – A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), in 2005.
Unlike some earlier state scenic road programs that focused solely on promoting roads, this program helps communities balance economic development and resource conservation.
The Scenic Byways program has two principal components: designation and funding.
National Scenic Byways designations recognize those roads across the country that exhibit one or more six-core intrinsic qualities— scenic, natural, historic, recreational, archaeological, or cultural– contributing towards a unique travel experience. As of 2020, there are 150 roads in 46 states designated as either National Scenic Byways or All – American Roads.
To be considered for designation as a National Scenic Byway, a road must possess characteristics of regional significance within at least one of the intrinsic quality categories. The byway must also demonstrate substantial community support and develop a corridor management plan that describes the preservation, marketing, and improvement strategies for the byway.
All-American Roads are the very best of the National Scenic Byways. An All-American Road must meet the same criteria as a National Scenic Byway but possess multiple intrinsic qualities of national significance. The byway must be considered a destination and reason for travel unto itself.
Although the program has not received dedicated funding since 2012, the Byways Act passage in 2019 paved the way for funding in future years. The FY 2021 spending bill included $16 million for immediate release after new byways are named, per the legislation’s terms. It is expected that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will award these and future funds each year. Funds will be awarded competitively in the form of merit-based grants covering 80 percent of the project cost. The remaining 20 percent must be matched by local, state, other federal, or in-kind means.