The Texas Scenic Byways bill by state Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) easily passed the Senate by a 30-1 margin on Wednesday, March 31, putting local communities and organizations a step closer to being eligible for additional federal funding.
Senate Bill 941 would create a Scenic Byways Program. Texas is the only state in the country that doesn’t have one. Without such a program, local communities and organizations along qualifying byways are missing out on federal grants and funding for promoting tourism or beautification efforts.
House Bill 1908 by state Rep. Eddie Morales (D-Eagle Pass) is working its way through the Texas House and has been referred to the Transportation Committee.
A state scenic roadway program could tap funds through the National Scenic Byways Program established in 1991 by the U.S. Congress. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration manages the voluntary, community-based program to “recognize, protect, and promote America’s most outstanding roads.”
Sarah Tober, executive director of Scenic Texas, praised the Texas Senate bill’s passage.
“Texas is the only state in the nation that does not have its own program and does not benefit from the federal dollars associated with the national program,” she said. “This is incredibly unfortunate given that since the pandemic, we’ve witnessed a revival in the great American road trip and many travelers use the national Scenic Byways Program as a guide when planning their trips.”
Without a state program, Tober said Texas is “literally missing from the map” when it comes to the national program, which means a loss of both federal and out-of-state tourism dollars.
Under Buckingham’s legislation, the Texas Scenic Byways program would only apply to roadways currently designated under state statute as already prohibited from having any new billboards.
In Central Texas and the Hill Country, this includes:
- U.S. 290 from Austin’s western city limits to Fredericksburg’s eastern city limits
- Texas 16 from Kerrville’s northern city limits to Interstate 20
- FM 3238 beginning at Texas 71 and any extension of the road into Hays and Blanco counties
Scenic Texas is hosting a bike ride fundraiser on Saturday, April 10, in Driftwood to build awareness of and support for a state scenic byways program. Registration and more information can be found on Scenic Texas’ event webpage.