Transportation Bill Rolls Back Preservation Funding and Protection

For the past 20 years, preservation projects have benefited greatly from an unlikely source, funding made possible by federal transportation funding. The numbers are staggering. Of the $8.73 billion (up to 2007) that has been allocated for communities to spend on transportation, close to 1/3 has helped fund the restoration of historic train depots, one-lane bridges, and a host of other preservation projects.  This is the single largest source of federal funding for historic preservation.
All this may change. 

This week, the House of Representatives released its transportation reauthorization bill – the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (HR 7).  Preservationists couldn’t be more disappointed with several of the provisions. The bill eliminates eligibility for historic preservation-related categories in the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program and rolls back tried-and-true historic preservation and environmental regulations.  This could be one of the most harmful pieces of legislation for  preservation progress seen to date. 

The National Trust, and its national preservation partners, has been pouring through the 800+ page document to identify all critical threats to preservation.  Though a full comprehensive analysis is pending, a number of items need to be addressed as the bill moves through the legislative process. 

A sampling of these issues includes the following:

  • elimination of preservation-related categories in the Transportation Enhancements program and removal of the funding set aside for these categories  
  • dismantling of the Scenic Byways program
  • elimination of the National Historic Covered Bridge program
  • a Section 4(f) exemption for all transportation projects subject to a Memorandum of Agreement under Section 106  
  • an exemption of railroad-related properties from Section 4(f) and the National Historic Preservation Act, and
  • an exemption from Section 106 review for state Departments of Transportation to dispose of any historic properties that are not actually listed in the National Register

These last three exemptions would dramatically decrease the number of resources eligible for protection under Section 4(f) and Section 106.

In a heartbreaking defeat during the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee markup on February 2, an amendment offered by Representatives Petri (WI), Johnson (IL), and Lipinski (IL) that would have maintained eligibility for preservation-related activities of the TE program and restored the Safe Routes to School program failed by two votes. 

In the coming weeks leading up to the bill’s floor vote (perhaps before the President’s Day recess) preservation partners will develop a strategy to address these harmful provisions. Combating these changes will require action from all areas of the preservation world. Stay tuned.

Additional Resources:

Transportation and Livable Communities on Preservation Nation
History of Transportation Funding
Glossary of Transportation Related Terms/Acronyms