In 1991, the Federal government established the National Scenic Byways Program to “identify, designate and promote scenic byways and to protect and enhance the recreational, scenic, historic and cultural qualities of the areas through which these byways pass.” Vermont also has a Byways program that integrates with the federal program. Both programs are voluntary and work to promote scenic roads as well as help a community balance economic development and resource conservation.
The National Scenic Byways (NSB) Program was established under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, and reauthorized in 1998 under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. While this program is part of the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, it is administered through state departments of transportation and is in place in 48 states and the District of Columbia. The program is entirely voluntary, and designation is community driven and initiated.
The program recognizes and promotes outstanding roads, with a focus toward tourism and enhancing the experience of travelers. To be designated a Scenic Byway, the road must have characteristics of regional significance in at least one of the following categories – archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, or scenic. A road that has characteristics of national significance in two or more of these categories maybe designated an “All American Road.” As of 2021, there are 221 roads from 48 states that are designated as either National Scenic Byways or All-American Roads.
As part of the designation process, a community must demonstrate strong community support and develop a corridor management plan that outlines the qualities and characteristics of the road corridor and a plan to protect and enhance those qualities. Corridor management plans vary with each area and the local or regional group that is promoting the program. Although corridor management plans may identify issues and propose protection tools, this program does not have regulatory powers. But is could provide background and momentum to lead to conservation and improved land use regulation.
One advantage of the Scenic Byways designation is the eligibility for grants distributed yearly through the Federal Highway Administration. Grants are for projects that improve the experience of the travelers on the road and help interpret the story of the byway to visitors. Grants may be used to:
- Improve visitors’ facilities
- Make safety improvements
- Develop corridor management plans
- Provide for resource protection
- Develop interpretive information
- Produce marketing material
The Scenic Byways designation is most often a regionally-focused undertaking and, as such, will take more organization and coordination than a solely local effort. However, this effort will be rewarded with a more comprehensive and cohesive approach to a scenic road corridor. Although there are no regulatory “teeth” in the designation, there is a definite advantage to reorganizing the special qualities of a corridor and outlining ideas for preserving its best qualities and minimizing impacts to those. The additional access to funding is always an added incentive.
The Vermont Byways Program
The Scenery Preservation Council was established in 1966 and brought back to life in 1993 by the Governor Howard Dean with the request for a study of Vermont’s corridors. This study helped launch the Vermont Byways Program (Title 19 V.S.A.) that works to integrate with the federal program. Like it’s federal counterpart, the Vermont Byways Program is also completely voluntary and community driven.
Some of the benefits of gaining designation as a Vermont Byway include:
- Gaining access to federal transportation funds to aid with improvements related to either tourism or resource conservation;
- Increasing marketing potential at the local, state and national level to increase tourism development;
- Providing a framework for a community or a group of communities to create a management strategy for special resources that lie along the byway. These resources could be historic, natural, cultural, scenic or recreational.
- Protecting a road’s character through the adoption of scenic road ordinances; and
- Bringing a community or group of communities together over an important community or regional resource.
Related Case Studies
For information on the National Scenic Byways program:
For information on Vermont’s Byways Program: http://www.vermont-byways.us/
This tool contains supplemental information and detailed case studies related to The Roadscape Guide.