Legislative Victory: The INVEST in America Act Moves Forward

Scenic America was able to announce two big legislative victories for scenic conservation this week. For more on our OTHER victory, the anticipated passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, and the full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and fixing our National Parks, click here.

Introduced last month, the INVEST in America Act is a surface transportation and infrastructure bill that will provide $494 billion funding for a huge range of projects for the next 5 years. Last night, the bill was reported favorably by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Federal bills like this Act often run to about 1,000 pages, and the process of adding amendments to them is usually long and complex. That’s why we are especially happy to be able to tell you that we were able to successfully advocate for changes that will benefit scenic conservation for many years to come.

The INVEST in America Act now includes 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 the House session Thursday, 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.

Scenic America President Mark Falzone said that the impact, once the INVEST in America Act is passed, will be felt across the nation.

“This dedicated funding will dramatically revitalize this popular program – and it will ensure that the economic development benefits of Scenic Byways can serve as a needed boost to communities hit hard by COVID-19,” he said.

Undergrounding of utility wires 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.

The Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP), which directs funding to “gateway communities” around national parks and forests, also received a funding increase from $270 million to $345 million.

These are huge victories, and we wouldn’t have been able to do it alone. We would like to thank 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 amendment and for their continued support. We also want to thank Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) for speaking in support of the amendment and highlighting the great value Scenic Byways bring to our nation.

The INVEST in America Act is still early in the legislative process, but these are huge strides forward.

“We want to thank every Scenic America supporter who contacted their legislators, forwarded an email, or spread the word about changes to the INVEST in America Act,” said Falzone.

“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.”