On July 1, at 5:23 p.m., H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, passed the House by a vote of 233-188 – a moment that marked a huge victory for Scenic America and all those who care about our nation’s scenic resources.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Moving Forward Act when it comes to our country’s scenic beauty. This bill includes funding for more than $1.5 trillion in infrastructure projects, including roads, bridges, schools, housing, and transit systems, over the next five years.
Over the month of June, Scenic America and our supporters all worked tirelessly during the bill’s review and amendment period to ensure that scenic priorities were included – and bad billboard amendments were defeated.
Federal bills like this often run to over 2,000 pages, and the process of adding amendments to them is usually long and complex.
But the Moving Forward Act includes 3 major wins for scenic beauty:
Funding for Scenic Byways
H.R. 2 authorizes funding for the National Scenic Byways Program for the first time in 8 years, a total of $325 million over 5 years. That funding breaks down as follows: $55 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, $60 million in FY22, $65 million in FY23, $70 million in FY24, and $75 million in FY25.
During a House Session on June 18, members of both parties shared personal stories of cherished byways and scenic areas in their home districts. Click to see a statement by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Highways and Transit Subcommittee Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-IL), and several other supporters, about the importance of the program.
The Scenic Byways Program hadn’t been accepting nominations for 10 years before the 2019 passage of the 2019 Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act, something we only achieved as a result of activating our allies in the Scenic Byways Coalition.
Undergrounding of Utility Wires
Undergrounding also made enormous progress under this bill as well, through the $25 billion per year National Highway Performance Program.
Scenic America was able to get the following language in the bill as an acceptable use of the funds: “Undergrounding public utilities in the course of other infrastructure improvements eligible under this section to mitigate the cost of recurring damages from extreme weather events, wildfire or other natural disasters.”
In addition, a Dig Once Task Force was created to encourage undergrounding of broadband, and Scenic America advocated for the placement of “one representative from a public interest organization” to that Task Force.
NO Billboard Amendments
A last-minute dramatic turn was the end-of-day, right-before-the-weekend introduction of Amendment 316, which would have changed the current safety requirements in the Highway Beautification Act. The change would allow a billboard to be anywhere “within 200 feet of a highway” including in the highway median or 2 feet off the highway.
This proposed amendment was a direct attack by the billboard industry on the legacy of Lady Bird Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act, but Scenic America and our supporters mobilized right away and was able to defeat the amendment. The House Rules Committee rejected it definitively, which means that we beat the billboard industry in a straight-up legislative fist fight in Congress.
What happens now? The Senate has their own bill, S. 2302, so they won’t take up H.R. 2. They will continue to work on S. 2302 and once they pass it, these two bills will go to a conference committee.
S. 2302 has two wins for us—it includes funding for gateway communities and encourages native plants as part of the Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) and it includes no pro-billboard measures.
The Senate will act on their own legislation either later on in 2020 or early in 2021. If there is a change in party in the Senate, then the process in the Senate may start over, but this is a must-pass bill, so eventually it will have to pass. We will keep you informed about further actions.
A Huge Collective Effort
These are huge victories, and we didn’t do it alone.
We would like to thank the following people for their help in adding funding for Scenic Byways into H.R. 2: Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Rodney Davis (R-IL), and Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX), for their outstanding bipartisan leadership. Furthermore, we would specifically like to thank Reps. Garret Graves (R-LA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Randy Weber (R-TX), and Albio Sires (D-NJ) for speaking in favor of the Byways funding and for their continued support. We also want to thank Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) for speaking in support of Byways funding and highlighting the great value Scenic Byways bring to our nation.
We want to thank every Scenic America supporter who contacted their legislators, forwarded an email, or spread the word about this piece of legislation. Without your support and efforts, we would not be here today. There is more that we need to do together, but this is a terrific start.