New Deal Roadside Landscape Features

The U.S. Bureau of Roads' design philosophy encouraged using local material such as stone for guardrails.

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Historical Overview + Documentation
Minnesota Department of Highways

The Minnesota Department of Highways, as Mn/DOT was known at the time, was established in its modern form in 1925. During its initial years, the Department focused on simply building and maintaining roads in the state highway system. During this period, a modern theory of highway design began to emerge. Not only was roadway safety emphasized but the principles of landscape architecture were employed to minimize a highway’s impact on its setting and to enhance the roadside landscape. One important aspect of this new design theory was the creation of roadside development facilities.


 

The goals and benefits of modern highway design are depicted in these two contrasting drawings of the same roadway by landscape architect A.R. Nichols. (top) The upper drawing is described as a "Typical Roadway" with limited right-of-way and steep backslopes. The landscape is marred with utility poles, guardrails and fences, and excessive signage and advertising. (bottom) The second drawing is entitled, "Roadway Constructed Under Modern Design." It depicts a safer roadway and one that is aesthetically pleasing through the addition of landscape features and the elimination of intrusive man-made structures.

 

The federal government, through the U.S. Bureau of Roads, was also promoting roadside development. In fact, by 1933 the federal government specified that a minimum of one-half of one percent of all federal highway funds be spent on roadside development. This amount was increased to one percent the following year.

A summary of the Bureau's design philosophy for roadside development appeared in an issue of the Improvement Bulletin dated May 4, 1934:

For the cost of a single mile of high grade road surfacing, 30 miles of roadside can be improved. This estimate ... is calculated...to avoid construction scars, with side slopes graded during construction to fit landscape requirements, and includes the salvaging of valuable trees available...
Local materials for improving roadsides may be utilized at comparatively low cost ... Such materials include boulders or native stone for guardrails, suitable plant material salvaged in the path of construction operations, careful trimming and cutting of trees, ... and utilizing other objects naturally adapted to the landscape.

This new philosophy for highway design was also described in a 1938 study entitled the Minnesota State Park, Parkway, and Recreational Area Study in which it was noted that "... basic consideration in determining the location of new highways and the realignment of old locations are...safety, construction and maintenance costs, preservation of the character of the natural landscape…, and provision of accessory facilities for the pleasure and convenience of the public." It was noted that, "A nation-wide change is occurring in which Minnesota participates."

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