Transportation and Historic Preservation

Transportation and preservation share a goal: creating better lives for Americans. Historically, badly conceived road projects have damaged important parts of the nation's heritage. The devastation was most obvious after the highway-building binge of the '50s and '60s: billions of dollars of asphalt and concrete marched into rural landscapes and dissected traditional urban neighborhoods.

Americans have learned that there are better ways. The federal Department of Transportation Act of 1966 included Section 4(f), which forced planners to develop projects that protect or avoid historic resources like the French Quarter in New Orleans and Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

In the last ten years, the addition of transportation enhancements has given communities more than 17,000 projects of the kind they want, such as bike paths, rails-to-trails conversions, and Main Street improvements. Historic neighborhoods and downtowns have also benefited from improved transit, which makes it easier to get to jobs, homes, shopping, and entertainment.

Individual case studies demonstrate the need for maintaining a strong Section 4(f) regulatory presence as well as more advanced transportation planning concepts and designs to keep community character and cultural resources intact while preserving traditional land use patterns.

Protection of Historic and Cultural Resources

The National Trust supports efforts to ensure that the essential safeguards of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) remain. These laws, which have been on the books for over 40 years, have effectively protected historic and natural resources, and ensured that the public voice is heard in the transportation planning process.

Section 106: Section 106, of the National Historic Preservation Act, in its most basic form, requires that federal agencies take into account the effects of their undertakings on properties listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and to provide the Advisory Council on HistoricPreservation (ACHP) with a reasonable opportunity to comment on such undertakings. In meeting this requirement, a federal agency must identify historic properties, consider the effect its proposed action will have on any identified sites, and then consult with the State Historic Preservation Officer on ways to avoid or mitigate any adverse effects. The law does not mandate a particular result; however, it does provide a meaningful opportunity to resolve potential conflicts 

Section 4(f): Part of the Department of Transportation Act adopted by Congress in 1966, Section 4(f) states that transportation projects must avoid historic sites unless there is "no feasible and prudent alternative" and requires "all possible planning to minimize harm" to historic places. This unequivocal "hands-off" directive has been invoked thousands of times over the past 45 years to keep the nation's heritage from being bulldozed and blacktopped, as examples from around the country show.

NEPA: National Environmental Policy Act provides a significant opportunity to affect U.S. Government decision-making that could harm the environment – including both natural and physical resources such as sacred, cultural, and historic sites. A federal agency may not proceed with a proposed action until it performs an environmental review that includes meaningful consideration of alternatives to the proposed action that would avoid or have a less harmful impact.


Effective October 1, 2012, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) is a $120 billion two-year bill that includes a dramatic restructuring of transportation programs and processes. Learn more about the new program and what it means for historic preservation.


Funding for transportation projects comes from a variety of sources. With the implementation of MAP-21 in 2012 primary funding comes from the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). Learn more about funding for transportation projects and how that connects to historic preservation.

Glossary of Terms & Acronyms

Wondering what "multimodal" means or still hazy on the precise definition of AASHTO? You shouldn't have to be a transportation insider to speak the language.

Check out this useful glossary of common transportation-related terms and acronyms.

Find Your State DOT

Referencing your state Department of Transportation (DOT) prior to embarking on a preservation and transportation endeavor is a significant initial step to success. Much information on streetscaping, transportation museum renovations, and other preservation projects can be found by browsing state DOT websites.

Find yours on the Federal Highway Administration's State Transportation Web Sites page.