Plants are not pork

Columns - Viewpoint

Two politicians try to stop funding for landscaped highways.

November 18, 2015
Kelli Rodda

Kelli Rodda


At press time, the U.S. House of Representatives was debating a multiyear surface transportation bill, and like with all bills, a bevy of amendments were introduced. Some amendments involved tweaks to gross vehicle weights of a particular type of truck or cargo; others targeted teen drivers or distracted drivers. But Representatives Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) and Richard Hudson (R-NC) introduced an amendment that would eliminate federal funding for all landscaping and vegetation management projects on the nation’s highways and roads (found at

AmericanHort warned: “If adopted, the Hartzler/Hudson amendment could jeopardize the structural and functional integrity of transportation projects. Currently, trees, shrubs, and other plants are often critical components of infrastructure investment. This is because of the tangible value ‘green infrastructure’ brings in terms of economic, human health and well-being, and ecosystem services benefits.”

Industry groups are worried the amendment also would prevent the current push to plant pollinator habitats along federal rights-of-way. But Hartzler and Hudson tried to save face by including this verbiage in the text: “The amendment does not repeal the encouragement of integrated vegetation management practices, or the encouraged development of habitat and forage for Monarch butterflies, other native pollinators.”

While I’m sure we all appreciate your “encouragement,” that doesn’t get anything done in our nation’s capital. The funding is critical.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are 47,432 miles of interstate highways and 175,514 miles of major roads that make up the national highway system. That represents a vast amount of land that could (and should) be landscaped. These landscaped areas along our road systems help reduce soil erosion, filter water before it enters the storm drain or percolates back into the groundwater source, clean particulates from the air, and provide wildlife habitat.

When I read about this amendment, my thoughts turned to Lady Bird Johnson, who helped spearhead The Beautification Act of 1965, which encouraged scenic enhancement and roadside development, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. “It is part of that legacy that today the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987 requires that at least 0.25 of 1 percent of funds expended for landscaping projects in the highway system be used to plant native flowers, plants and trees,” the center writes. After Washington, she focused her efforts on my home state of Texas. For 20 years “she encouraged the beautification of Texas highways by personally giving awards to the highway districts that used native Texas plants and scenery to the best advantage. Her focus was on the ecological advantages as well as the beauty of native plants,” the center writes.

We can’t allow her vision to fade. The landscaped roadways not only provide environmental benefits, but those miles and miles of thoroughfares are a canvas for the industry to showcase its tremendous products.