In his January 1965 State of the Union, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated that “a new and substantial effort must be made to landscape highways to provide places of relaxation and recreation wherever our roads run…”
In the Senate, a bill for highway beautification was reported with amendments by the Public Works Committee on September 14, and the Senate quickly passed a version of the bill with a vote of 63-14 on September 16.
The House Public Works Committee reported a version of the bill on September 22, but due to increasing pressure from special interest groups and concerns about funding sources, sponsors of the House bill had a more difficult time gaining support. A number of amendments were offered, including the proposal from Representative Bob Dole (R-KS) to replace references to the “Secretary of Commerce” throughout the bill with “Lady Bird,” to reflect her strong influence over the bill. It was rejected by a voice vote.
On the evening of October 7, members of the House were to attend the President’s “Salute to Congress,” but earlier that afternoon the President demanded that the House pass the bill that night. The House remained in session, finally passing the bill at 1 a.m. on October 8 by a vote of 245 to 138.
The bill returned to the Senate, which approved the House amendments by a voice vote on October 13.
The bill regulated advertising on Interstate Highways and the Federal-aid Primary System, covering 268,000 miles of highways. Signs allowed in zoned areas were subject to size, spacing, and lighting specifications.
It provided standards for controlling junk yards, scrap metal processing facilities, and garbage dumps located within 1,000 feet of the edge of the right-of-way. Sites were required to be screened or fenced from view or removed.
It also provided for the continued use of the Highway Trust Fund, with matching state funds, for landscaping, roadside development, and building recreation areas within the right-of-way. General Treasury funds could also be used without matching to preserve and restore scenic beauty.
The President signed the Highway Beautification Act into law on October 22, 1965.