What is a scenic byway?
The National Scenic Byways Program is a voluntary, community-based program administered through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to recognize, protect, and promote America’s most outstanding roads.
National Scenic Byways designations recognize those roads across the country that exhibit one or more of six core intrinsic qualities— scenic, natural, historic, recreational, archaeological, or cultural– contributing towards a unique travel experience. Nationwide, there are 184 National Scenic Byways, and 1,269 state-designated scenic byways as of February 2021, with more roads currently being added at both the state and national levels.
What is the history of 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.
The first National Scenic Byways designations were announced in September 1996, with other distinctions continuing over the next 13 years. The last designations were announced in October 2009.
Funding for the program lapsed in 2012. In 2019, Scenic America led an advocacy effort to revitalize the program, which culminated in the passage of the Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019. New byways designations were announced on February 16, 2021.
In December 2020, the President signed a stimulus bill authorizing $16 million in funding for the program—its first dedicated funding since FY2012. The program’s future funding will be addressed by the 117th Congress.
What is the difference between a National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road?
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 that are of national significance and the byway must be considered a destination and reason for travel unto itself. There are 39 All-American Roads.
What’s the difference between a state scenic byway and a National Scenic Byway?
In order to apply for a National Scenic Byway designation, a road must first be distinguished as a state scenic byway. State scenic byways programs are grass-roots collaborative efforts to recognize outstanding roadways. Communities typically work closely with local and state agencies including their state department of transportation and tourism offices to preserve and promote the unique qualities and character of the road. There are state scenic byways programs in every state except for Texas.
What roads are scenic byways? Are there any scenic byways in my state?
You can view a complete list of National Scenic Byways here. Scenic America also offers detailed PDF maps of each state showing its state scenic byways as well as the National Scenic Byways that fall within its borders on this page.
How does a road apply for a scenic byway designation?
In order to become a National Scenic Byway, a road must first be recognized as a state scenic byway. Contact the byways coordinator at your state’s department of transportation for specific details. Applications for the National Scenic Byways Program are administered by the Federal Highway Administration. After the passage of the Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019, FHWA solicited nominations for National Scenic Byways. The nomination procedures used in 2020 are outlined here.
When will new national designees be announced?
In accordance with the Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act, designees were expected to be announced by December 2020. Due to the presidential transition, new designees were announced on February 16, 2021.
What are the economic benefits of scenic byways?
Scenic Byways help communities by driving tourism and economic development, which results in job creation. Scenic byways are stewarded by local stakeholder groups who volunteer countless hours in support of byways, and federal dollars are often combined with local public and private investment to improve the byway experience, increasing the draw to visitors and creating a large return on investment. Without funding, rural and suburban communities along these byways cannot maximize the economic development opportunities provided by a road’s designation as a National Scenic Byway.
For example, a 2019 National Parks Service report found that in 2018, an estimated 14.7 million visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway spent around $1.1 billion in local gateway regions, supporting 15,900 local jobs. In California and Oregon, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is generating $163.6 million in total business sales, supporting more than 1,000 jobs.
Which byways are eligible for these grants and other funding opportunities?
All national, state, and tribal scenic byways and All-American Roads are eligible for National Scenic Byways Program discretionary grants.
How is the grant funding allocated?
Grants are submitted through the state DOTs or Indian tribes who rank the applications and send them to FHWA, who ultimately awards the discretionary grants. According to the guidelines published by the FHWA in past grant cycles, priority is given to projects that are consistent with the corridor management plan developed for the byway or for the development of such a plan to make the byway eligible for national designation, as well as projects that are associated with the development of a State or Indian tribe scenic byway program.
What can grant funding be used for?
Project funding can be used for any of the following:
- An activity related to the planning, design, or development of a State or Indian tribe scenic byway program.
- Development and implementation of a corridor management plan to maintain the scenic, historical, recreational, cultural, natural, and archaeological characteristics of a byway corridor while providing for accommodation of increased tourism and development of related amenities.
- Safety improvements to a scenic byway to the extent that the improvements are necessary to accommodate increased traffic and changes in the types of vehicles using the highway because of the scenic byway designation.
- Construction along a scenic byway of a facility for pedestrians and bicyclists, rest area, turnout, highway shoulder improvement, overlook, or interpretive facility (must be within or immediately adjacent to the byway’s right of way).
- An improvement to a scenic byway that will enhance access to an area for the purpose of recreation, including water related recreation.
- Protection of scenic, historical, recreational, cultural, natural, and archaeological resources in an area adjacent to a scenic byway.
- Development and provision of tourist information to the public, including interpretive information about a scenic byway (however product advertising is not permitted with grant).
- Development and implementation of a scenic byway marketing program.
You can view an archive of previously funded projects on the FHWA website.
How do I draft my grant application?
The FHWA website includes several useful links to assist you in drafting your grant application, including:
Examples of past grants
Tips for writing your grant
We also suggest that you work with your state Department of Transportation byway coordinator to discuss the particulars of your intended project to get their support, which should improve your chances of success.
Where can I read the text for the “Reviving America’s Byways Act of 2019”?
You may view the text here.
Where can I read the text for the FY 2021 omnibus appropriations bill, which included funding for byways?
The stimulus bill text (H.R. 133) from the 116th Congress (signed into law on December 27, 2020) can be found here. To go directly to the enrolled text, use this link.
How can I stay up to date on the latest byways news?
Sign up for Scenic America’s email newsletter. We will send out byways news and updates when new information becomes available.