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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 70 · No. 3 > Guest Editorial

Nov/Dec 2006
Vol. 70 · No. 3

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-2006-001

Guest Editorial

The Law and Beyond

A photo of April Marchese, Director of Human and Natural Environment, Federal Highway Administration

On June 29, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, launching the Interstate construction program. On July 14, 1955, just a year earlier, he had signed the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955, initiating a new era in Federal environmental law.

Over the next 50 years, as the interstate system grew, so did the body of law regulating the environment. In 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act was passed, and the Long Island Expressway Viaduct was rebuilt; in 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed, and the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnel was completed; in 1977 the Clean Water Act was passed, and a year later the Vail Pass was completed. At last count, more than 60 environmental laws now apply to the construction and operation of Federal-aid highways.

Highway builders and users have responded remarkably well to these new and evolving standards. Despite a tripling of vehicle miles traveled, emissions from motor vehicles have dropped significantly since 1970. Wetlands affected by highways now are mitigated at an average ratio of more than 2 acres for every 1 acre of impact. Endangered species routinely are avoided on highway projects. The Nation's roadways are gentler on the environment than ever before.

A photo of Fred Skaer, Director of Project Development & Environmental Review, Federal Highway Administration

Yet the adaptation of highway construction and operation to the environment is much more than a response to an increasingly complex network of laws. These practices are not driven by mandates but by values . They reflect a philosophy that building highways compatible with the environment makes good sense. It makes sense to "keep it simple" by raising the lights on an Indiana highway so endangered bats do not fly into traffic. It makes sense to "green" a Pennsylvania highway by using scrap tires to fill embankments on bridges. It is "ecological" to plant native buffalo grass and prairie plants along roadsides in Kansas. It is civic, as well as civil, engineering to revitalize businesses and public facilities in an economically depressed area while building an interstate in Alabama. The Nation's roads are built to be sensitive to their context because the transportation community and the public value the scenic, aesthetic, historic, environmental, and community resources that surround them.

Over time, those who travel our highways have come to appreciate them not just as a means to a destination, but as unique resources themselves. Whether it is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the Natchez Trace Parkway, or Historic Route 66, these roads capture the beauty and history that is America. There is no law that requires that—just the dedication and vision of those who build projects on the Federal-aid highway system.

April Marchese's signature

April Marchese

Director of Human and Natural Environment

Federal Highway Administration

Fred Skaer's signature

Fred Skaer

Director of Project Development & Environmental Review

Federal Highway Administration

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