Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

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Roadside Use of Native Plants

History of Roadside Development

The history of roadside development and management has occurred on different timelines in different States. However, most State Departments of Transportation share this common history. The Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act formalized a native wildflower requirement. On that law and others, the case for use of native plants was built.

1932 — A midwest group known as Friends of the Native Landscape (Jens Jensen) reported an approach to the Illinois Department of Transportation for Roadside Planting and Development. Many States were pursuing this approach due to the economic pressures of the times.

1936 — Jesse M. Bennett wrote Roadsides, the Front Yard of the Nation. Although the book's title stuck, Bennett's words did not: "What is really desired, however, is attractive and useful roadsides which can be obtained by preserving or creating a natural or an approach to a natural condition in keeping with the adjacent or surrounding country. And the significant thing about this is outright economy in road maintenance." States like Texas thought this to be true.

1965 — The Highway Beautification Act, under Ladybird Johnson's influence, encouraged the removal of billboards, screening of junkyards, and landscaping of roadsides.

1969 — The NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) established the notion of avoidance and minimization of disturbance. This law encouraged environmentally sensitive solutions.

1987 — STURAA (Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act) is the act that includes the requirement to plant native wildflowers with of 1 % of a highway project's landscape budget when federal funds are used. By 1987 some States were already planting more than that minimum. By 1994 only 38 States had program level support for native wildflowers.

1991 — ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) provided funding for enhancements. One of the ten categories of enhancements was landscaping. All ISTEA projects were subject to the STURAA requirement of native wildflower use.

1994 — The Executive Memorandum (E.M.) On environmentally and economially beneficial landscaping was signed by President Clinton. The E.M. recommended the use of regional native plants, less fertilizers, less pesticides, less irrigation on federal grounds, lands, and federally funded landscape projects ....as in highway construction projects.

1999 — An Executive Order (E.O) on invasive plants was signed by President Clinton. The E.O. ordered increased communication and cooperation of all agencies through a National Invasive Species Council. All agencies focused on prevention and control of invasive plant species, as well as followed-up with restoration of native plants as directed.

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Questions and feedback should be directed to Deirdre Remley (deirdre.remley@dot.gov, 202-366-0524).

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