Federal programs that provide funding for state and local projects are so numerous it’s difficult to understand them all. A new program has recently been reopened and eligible projects are already being announced in numerous states.
America’s Byways is an umbrella term that includes 150 diverse roadways that are now eligible for funding support. These particular roadways, or corridors, have been designated as National Scenic Byways or All-American Roads and they are eligible for project funding if the objective is to preserve and enhance the corridor. Most projects include improvements to a cultural, historic, natural, recreational, or scenic asset and the federal program often picks up 89 percent of the project’s cost.
Here’s how it all works – local officials can nominate roadways that meet at least one component of the designation criteria. Then, if a designation is made, federal funding can support as much as 80 percent of a project that will spur tourism and/or economic development. Every state, except Texas and Hawaii, has designated corridors that qualify for project funding.
Projects funded usually enhance a roadway with components that include new parks, scenic overlooks, multi-use trails, greenways, parking enhancements, wayfinding systems, interpretive signage, beautification programs, and/or safety enhancements. The projects usually also enhance travel for motorists, improve safety, and boost tourism.
Once a federal designation is awarded, it leverages even more sources of grant funding for the project. It makes the project a candidate for funding from The Great American Outdoors Act and the Legacy Restoration Fund which supports national park enhancements. That latter funding program disbursed approximately $1.9 billion last year.
Projects like the ones described here are appearing throughout the country with this type of federal funding support. Most near-term projects are scheduled to launch in 2023 or early in 2024.
The Natchez Trace Parkway received a designation from the All-American Road program and now a large rehabilitation project covering 83 miles of roadway is planned. The cost projected for this project has been tagged at $130.6 million. Construction will begin in 2023 and likely continue until the fall of 2027. The project will focus on the Mississippi portion of the 444-mile road, which crosses the states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. It will include pavement repairs, audible traffic markers, safety improvements, upgraded bridges, and culverts. Last year, 6.4 million people visited the Natchez Trace Parkway and spent an estimated $178 million in local gateway regions.
A roadway corridor in Lake Tahoe, Nevada is designated as a National Scenic Byway, and it is now the focus of a planning and design effort that will result in a large mobility improvement project. The $87.6 million initiative will be spearheaded by the Tahoe Transportation District and the objective is to improve mobility along the 28-miles of designated scenic byway. Repair work will include construction of a transit mobility hub with 250 parking spaces and direct access to the nearby Spooner Lake State Park. It will also include additional parking and work at several transit stops leading to the Skunk Harbor scenic beach area. The beach is currently accessible only by hiking or biking. A 7.4-mile extension of one multi-use path will link the byway to another state asset, the Sand Harbor State Park.
The Merritt Parkway Corridor in Connecticut has a National Scenic Byway designation, and a multi-million roadway interchange project is currently in the design phase. The project’s objective is to enhance connectivity, safety, and traffic management along a 37-mile stretch of road. Currently, the parkway is missing connections to another road system in Connecticut and motorists must take a circuitous and often congested route to travel between the two. The interchange improvements will require construction and rehabilitation of several bridges and roads, enhanced safety improvements, and data monitoring technology. The project’s cost has been projected to be between $100 million to $200 million.
Another Merrit Parkway project, carrying a $50 million cost projection, will be launched as soon as an environmental assessment is completed. This project will include either a significant rehabilitation or a complete replacement of the Saugatuck River Swing Bridge. The bridge’s trusses are in critical condition due to repeated vehicular collisions and a more detailed investigation revealed that the bridge has severe structural deficiencies.
A different type of corridor project will be launched in Bellevue, Washington and it will be focused on the Mountains to Sound Greenway on I-90. This project will involve a trail extension from the I-405/Factoria Crossing. Mountains to Sound Greenway Trail carries a cost projection of $29.6 million. It is currently in the last phase of design and the project includes construction of an adjacent trail along the 100-mile corridor. While some of the trail has been constructed, there are several remaining phases of construction. Officials are advancing additional trail extensions around the scenic byway to heighten its appeal as a tourist destination. The regional trail will also make it safer for people to enjoy the corridor’s scenic outlooks while walking or biking along it.. The trail projects will also extend a 12-foot-wide multi-use trail through the city of Bellevue to connect to another pedestrian and bicycle trail and this will require construction of a new bridge.
Cities, counties, and states with designated corridors are eager to participate in the program because of the large percentage of project funding that is available. The financial backing will launch new collaborative initiatives throughout America.