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 recent passage of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act - A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), in 2005.
Unlike some earlier state scenic roads programs that focused solely on the promotion of roads, this program helps communities balance economic development and resource conservation.
The program has two principle components: designation and funding.
National Scenic Byways designations recognize those roads across the country that exhibit one of more six core intrinsic qualities-- scenic, natural, historic, recreational, archaeological, or cultural-- contributing towards a unique travel experience. As of 2006, there are 126 roads from 44 states that are 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. In addition, the byway must demonstrate strong community support and develop a corridor management plan that describes in detail 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 that are of national significance and the byway must be considered a destination and reason for travel unto itself.
TEA-21 increased the funding for the National Scenic Byways Program by 85 percent, to $148 million over six years for projects such as creating statewide byways programs, corridor management planning, promoting byways, scenic easements, billboard removal, etc. The passage of SAFETEA-LU added another $175 million in funding for byways-related projects. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) awards the funds competitively each year in the form of merit –based grants covering 80 percent of the project cost and with the requirement that the remaining 20 percent be matched by local, state, other federal or in-kind means.
To learn more about the history of the National Scenic Byways program, visit the Federal Highway Administration’s website. To explore all of the 125 nationally designated byways and to help plan your next road adventure, be sure to visit the America’s Byways website.
Resources for the byways community developed by the former America's Byways Resource Center and others can be found at www.byways101.org, a website maintained by the National Scenic Byways Foundation.