Forest Highways (FH)

The Forest Highways (FH) Program was eliminated under MAP-21. All projects previously authorized under the FH Program will still be administered under previous rules and regulations of the FH Program. The FH Program provided funding to resurface, restore, rehabilitate, or reconstruct designated public roads that provide access to or were within a National Forest or Grassland. The program was administered by the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Federals Lands Highway Office, in partnership with the USDA Forest Service (FS) and 41 State Departments of Transportation, in accordance with tri-agency agreements in each state.

Funding was provided for the planning, design, construction, reconstruction, or improvement of designated Forest Highways—including bridges—that provides access to or were within a unit of the National Forest System. Funds could also be used to purchase transit vehicles and design, operate, and maintain public transit facilities on public lands. Additionally, funds could be used to pay for any transportation project authorized in Title 23. SAFETEA-LU added three new eligible activities for Forest Highway funds: Maintenance, Hunting and Fishing Access Signs, and Aquatic Organism Passage projects.


Congress created National Forests in 1891. The present day National Forest System consists of 155 National Forests and 20 Grasslands, which covers 192 million acres in 44 States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The 1916 Federal-Aid Road Act provided funds for forest roads and trails serving National Forests. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1921 divided forest roads and trails into a) Forest Highway and b) Forest Development roads and trails. Forest highways were public roads that were owned by State or local agencies and served the National Forest system. They should not be confused with forest development roads which were owned by the Forest Service. Forest were designated by FHWA's Federal Lands Highway Division Engineers in consultation with State departments of transportation, local agencies, and the Forest Service.

A 1977 General Accounting Office (GAO) report directed the FHWA and the Forest Service to jointly assure that transportation needs of the National Forest system were adequately considered when projects were being selected. This resulted in an amendment to the FH definition in the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1978, and also to the issuance of an amended 23 CFR 660A in 1982.

Section 126 of the 1982 STAA (Public Law 97-424) provided for allocating FH funds according to relative needs of the National Forest system instead of apportioning FH funds to the States.

Section 1032(a) of the 1991 ISTEA stipulated in amended 23 U.S.C. 202 that 66 percent of the allocated Public Lands Highways Program funds shall be allocated for FH routes in accordance with the formula established in Section 134 of the 1987 STURAA with equal consideration given for funding roads providing access to and within the National Forest system as identified by the Secretary of Agriculture through renewable resource and land use planning and the impact of such planning on transportation facilities. The conference report also directed that these funds be allocated by Forest Service Regions.

TEA-21 and SAFETEA-LU continued the FH allocation procedure established in ISTEA, and currently found in 23 U.S.C. 202(b)(2), as amended by section 1119(d) of SAFETEA-LU.

Transportation Facilities within the National Forest System

There were approximately 30,000 miles of public roads designated as Forest Highways. The vast majority of these roads were under the jurisdiction of States (45%) or Counties (48%), with the remainder under the jurisdiction of the FS. Approximately 74% of the roads were paved. The remaining 26% were gravel or native material. The transportation system also included 4,214 bridges.

Statutory References

23 U.S.C. 202, 203 & 204; SAFETEA-LU, Sections 1101(a)(9)(D) and 1119(m)

Period of Availability

In accordance with 23 U.S.C. 118, FH funds shall remain available for obligation for three years after the last day of the fiscal year in which the funds were authorized. Therefore, un-authorized funds will lapse at the end of federal fiscal year 2015.

Federal Share

In accordance with 23 U.S.C. 204(b), the Federal share of the costs for any project eligible under this program was 100 percent.

Obligation Limitation

The FH funds were subject to obligation limitation; however, 100 percent obligation authority was provided with the allocation of funds for the selected projects. The obligation limitation reduces the available funding for the program under the provisions of SAFETEA-LU Section 1102(f).


Under the provisions of 23 U.S.C. 202(b)(2)(A), the funds shall be allocated in accordance with section 134 of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1987 (23 U.S.C. 202 note; 101 Stat. 173). Furthermore, the Secretary shall give equal consideration to projects that provide access to and within the National Forest System, as identified by the Secretary of Agriculture through -

  1. renewable resource and land use planning; and
  2. Assessments of the impact of that planning on transportation facilities.

In accordance with 23 U.S.C. 204(b)(5), the FH funds were available for "any kind of transportation project eligible for assistance under Title 23, United States Code, that was within, adjacent to, or provides access to" National Forest System lands. Under the provisions of 23 U.S.C. 204(b)(1)(A), the FH funds were available for transportation planning, research, engineering, and construction of Forest Highways. Under the provisions of 23 U.S.C. 204(b)(1)(B), the FH funds were also available for operation and maintenance of transit facilities located on Forest Highways.

Under 23 U.S.C. 204(h), eligible projects under the FH program may also include the following:

  • Transportation planning for tourism and recreational travel, including the National Forest Scenic Byways Program, Bureau of Land Management Back Country Byways Program, National Trail System Program, and other similar Federal programs that benefit recreational development.
  • Adjacent vehicular parking areas.
  • Interpretive signage.
  • Acquisition of necessary scenic easements and scenic or historic sites.
  • Provision for pedestrians and bicycles.
  • Construction and reconstruction of roadside rest areas, including sanitary and water facilities.
  • Other appropriate public road facilities such as visitor centers as determined by the Secretary.
  • A project to build a replacement of the federally owned bridge over the Hoover Dam in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area between Nevada and Arizona.

Program Administration

In each state, the Forest Highway Program was jointly administered by the FS, the FHWA, and the respective state transportation agency in that state. A memorandum of agreement defined the roles and responsibilities of each partner. Forest Highway projects were selected and developed under tri-agency partnerships. There were 41 partnerships involving the U.S. Forest Service regions, FHWA Federal Lands Highway Divisions and the 41 State members of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

The FHWA Federal Lands Highway Divisions undertake about 80% of the design and construction projects, and performed the corresponding oversight. They also conducted the inventory and condition assessment for most Forest Highways. The FS and the state transportation agencies administered the remaining 20% of the projects.

Program Funding

Forest Highway funds were allocated by State areas using a hybrid legislative/administrative formula. The administrative portion of the formula was contained in the Non-Regulatory Supplement to 23 CFR 660. The legislative portion of the formula was contained in Section 134 of the Federal-aid Highway Act of 1987 (Public Law 100-17).

Program Procedures

Procedures for the Forest Highway Program were contained in 23 Code of Federal Regulation 660 Subpart A.

Selection of Forest Highway Projects

Each year, the FHWA Federal Lands Division Offices and the FS Regional Offices convened with state transportation agencies and county governments. They selected projects and updated the five-year program of projects for their state. The programs of projects were approved by the Federal Lands Highway Divisions. Copies of the approved programs were distributed to State transportation agencies.

FHWA Headquarters Program Office Contact

Frances Ramirez
Public Lands Highways Program Coordinator
Office of Federal Lands Highway
Phone: (202) 493-0271