WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman
Y. Mineta this week urged Congress to protect important economic
development programs like the one to promote and develop scenic
highways by passing a responsible six-year surface transportation
bill sooner rather than later.
Scenic byways bring tourists to rural America and much-needed
dollars to small communities, said Secretary Mineta.
This small but critical program is heading for a dead
end if Congress fails to pass a fiscally responsible surface
transportation bill as soon as possible.
Without a six-year surface transportation bill, the U.S. Department
of Transportation would be unable to name additional roads
to the program and could issue less than half as much money
for Byways grants as last year, the secretary cautioned. This
means that of the $80 million total in grants requests sent
from mostly rural communities, the department will be able
to award only 14 percent of their requests.
Since 1992, the National Scenic Byways Program has provided
$206 million for 1,495 projects in 48 states, including Puerto
Rico and the District of Columbia. Currently, 96 roads in
39 states have been named by the U.S. Department of Transportation
as an American Byway.
Studies suggest that byway designations increase the number
of visitors to rural communities by up to 20 percent, resulting
in billions more dollars and tens-of-thousand of jobs nationwide.
Those same studies have found that the typical byway visitor
spends between $100 and $200 per trip.
The Americas Byways program is funded as part of the
six-year surface transportation authorization bill. The Bush
Administrations $256 surface transportation reauthorization
proposal, called the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient
Transportation Equity Act of 2003 (SAFETEA), would be the
largest highway, transit and safety investment in U.S. history.
SAFETEA would increase funding for the scenic byways program
by 28 percent from $148 million under the last six-year surface
transportation bill to $189 million.
The secretary made his comments during the launch of a new
Mobil Travel Guide series featuring Americas Byways.
Mobil Travel Guide today released the first of its Americas
Byways Series, titled All-American Roads. The new guides will
feature travel information for roads designated as an American