Please Note: Because the National Scenic Byways Program is no longer funded, FHWA is no longer soliciting grant applications. Without funding for the Program, FHWA will not be moving forward with another round of designations of America's Byways® at this time.
Since the National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) was first established, there has been debate whether or not there should be an upper limit to the number of nationally designated byways. Discussions among some byway coordinators and advocates have favored limits on the number of byways within each State or region, or by intrinsic quality. Typically, such discussions have included concerns that too many byways might erode the quality of the America's Byways® collection as well as dilute available funding. Others have steadfastly opposed limits on the size of the collection arguing the grassroots nature of the Program, the need to provide options for States slower to embrace the Program, and the belief that caps and limits will occur within the America's Byways® collection naturally.
The arguments on both sides of this issue typically take the following directions:
For the purposes of this paper, it should be noted that the number of byways per State is very different from the question of the total number of byways in the overall program.
Realistically, the answer to the question of a limit to the size of the NSBP designated byways must lie in between these two positions. A national cap will artificially constrain the flexibility of the system to grow, and will not address the real concerns for a lack of geographic diversity within the Program today. Further, a cap would favor those States that got their programs up and running early while potentially penalizing those that more recently decided to participate. On the other hand, leaving the Program open, without any cap on nationally designated byway routes, may result in continued geographic and intrinsic quality unevenness in the collection.
States with a higher number of byways have, to a certain degree, stimulated the conversation on the number of overall byways that might be allowed. These States have opened the door to questions of, "Might every State eventually end up of with as many byways as that State?" This is an important issue that should be explored.
The NSBP has resulted in a total of 126 byways across the nation with a wide disparity in the number of nationally designated byways per State. The question of whether there should be a limit on the number of byways in the Program is intricately tied with the question of the diversity and dispersal of byways across the country. In some cases individuals look at the number of designated byway routes in States such as Colorado, Oregon, New Mexico and Washington and wonder whether that density can or should be expected in other States. At an average of 8 to 10 byways per State, the collection would quickly rise to 500 byways.
At its current rate of growth, the America's Byways® collection could easily increase to include 150 to 200 nationally designated byways within the next 10 years (this assumes two to three nomination rounds with 20 to 40 new roads being designated in each round). It is conceivable that this number of new routes could be accommodated within the existing programmatic structure without constituting an undue strain on the overall collection in terms of grant management, website management, marketing, and the provision of technical support already provided for the current collection of 126 byways.
Further, this discussion should consider the potential impacts of new byway routes from the 562 federally recognized Indian tribes in the United States. It is important to recognize the concept of sovereign nations and not tie Indian tribe byways to any potential limits for States. Any potential limits on Indian tribe byways within the America's Byways® collection must be related to the overall collection, not individual States. Until there is a sense of the number of Indian tribes that might submit applications for byways in the coming years it is premature to establish a cap.
Colorado and New Mexico have already suggested that they have a sufficient number of byways that express both a diversity of intrinsic qualities and geographic distribution. Other State byway coordinators in States with large numbers of designated State and NSBP routes have suggested similar conclusions. Compared with adopting a cap for the entire nation, the per-State-average that may be determined from these potential self-determined caps may begin to suggest a "saturation threshold" that may be broadly applied to the Program as a whole. A state cap would encourage a greater diversity of roads across the country and avoid the situations of individual States obtaining a disproportionate share of byways. With a reasonable set of criteria regarding the typical number of byways that should be allowed per State, the system might double in size in the next 15 years to 20 years. The result would be a collection of roads offering about five national byway experiences in each State. As an average, we might still expect a greater number of byways in large states—nevertheless, as the Program currently shows, a density of byway routes is not necessarily tied to saturation within a geographic area or the repetition of intrinsic qualities.
Assume, for a moment, an average of five national byways per State or approximately 250 in the entire system. This scenario would result in the potential addition of another 124 byways into the collection. On both a per-state basis and for the collection as a whole, this would give most travelers a reasonable selection of different intrinsic quality types and geographic opportunities for almost any byway trip. This is especially true when assuming that many travelers will increasingly be aware of, and use, State and Indian tribe locally designated byways.
Looking at the next rounds of byway designations and the likely number of byways to be nominated based on past precedents, announce a limit to the size of the America's Byways® collection. Under such a scenario, the NSBP should consider soliciting byway applications to fill recognized gaps in intrinsic qualities and geographic diversity. Due to the recent opportunities under SAFETEA-LU for Indian tribes to apply directly to the NSBP, Indian tribe byways should be exempted from the cap, or provided an extended period for application with a possible separate cap on Indian tribe byways.
Given the likely natural course of the Program and the amount of energy required to pursue the creation of a byway, one can reasonably argue that those routes most desiring byway status have largely sought that status and have either achieved success or failed. This entrance threshold, due to the amount of resources and time required to seek designation, will serve as a sufficient check on the total number of applications that are submitted to the Federal Highway Administration. This check on the number of applications will also serve as a check on the total number of byways that eventually become part of the system.
In other words, maintaining the current standards for admission into the America's Byways® collection will continue to encourage that only the highest-quality routes are included in the Program. While some might argue that some of the byways that have been nationally designated are somewhat less worthy than others, generally speaking the vast majority of the byways in the collection meet the criteria for demonstrating either regional or national significance in one or more of the six intrinsic quality categories.
Increase standards and expectations for nominations from future byways. For example, roads seeking a scenic status might be required to submit a more complete set of photos and tour videos. Perhaps all roads seeking designation based on scenic criteria should go through a scenic valuation process. Perhaps routes seeking historical or cultural status should demonstrate National Register or National Historic Landmark designations. All routes might be required to demonstrate the degree to which they offer existing experiences that travelers can enjoy today or the degree to which the byway will require investment in interpretation and facilities to make the experience enjoyable for visitors. In the case of the latter, byways would be admitted on an interim basis until they could demonstrate that they had made the necessary investments and only then be afforded full status as nationally designated byways. Other issue papers in this series address the question of either maintaining or changing the nomination criteria. There is a direct correlation and a degree of overlap between the rigor of the designation process and the number of byways that will ultimately become part of the collection.
A rigorous de-designation program would decrease the number of byways in the Program. In this way, concerns about lower quality byways diluting the overall quality of the collection would be lessened.
The availability of funding for designated byways is a serious issue when considering the ultimate size of the Program. The NSBP might adopt a policy that, over the course of every designation cycle, will ensure that all byways on average have access to a certain amount or percentage of available grant funds. This level of funding could be proposed as a guide to help Congress determine the minimum amount of funding required to sufficiently fund the Program. Obviously, this raises questions concerning the appropriateness of building the collection based on funding. NSBP funding is predicated on the eligibility of the projects submitted for consideration. It is true that many byways, once established, may require fewer and fewer funds over time. It is also true that most participants recognize that Federal funding for the NSBP may or may not be available in the future. Many byways are already working hard to diversify their sources of funding to support their planned activities. While the guarantee of a certain level or percentage of Federal byway grant funds may initially discourage new byways from leveraging alternative funding sources and partners, experience shows that more mature byways will seek the financial resources necessary to support their projects and programs. With the reality that funding for nationally designated byways may or may not be available in the future, it would be imprudent to tie any limits to the size of the America's Byways® collection, designating more roads solely based on the availability of funding.
As discussed, establishing a cap on the number of designated routes in the America's Byways® collection would appear to be an exercise fraught with difficulties. A more useful approach might be adopting an average number of byways per State. Currently, including all fifty States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, there is an average of roughly 2.5 nationally designated byways per State/jurisdiction. Based on concerns for broad geographic representation, diversity of intrinsic qualities, and the quality of traveler experiences, the NSBP and State byway coordinators might establish the goals and parameters for an ideal or "complete" byway system—including currently nonparticipating States and Indian tribes. Based on this assessment of needs and a review of existing byway routes, a reasonable goal for the average number of byways-per-State could be established. To assist with this process, State and Indian tribe byways programs could identify the significant stories and physiographic landscapes that the State or Indian tribe would like to have represented and nationally recognized. This process would allow for a rough upper limit on the number of byways for the collection, facilitating better long-range Program planning while still allowing flexibility and discretion regarding the exact number of byways per state and nationally. Further, with a rough upper limit of the number of national byways, specific goals for Indian tribe byways could be factored independently of the States' goals, with the resultant goal modifying the average byways-per-State number. The establishment of an average number of byways per State would reduce the ability of a limited number of States to obtain the majority of future byways unless such States could demonstrate a compelling value to the America's Byways® collection unmatched elsewhere in the nation. Ideally, this process would encourage a more even distribution of byways across the nation.