Tell Congress Not to Pave over Our History
Save Historic Places, Save Section 4(f)
By | From Main Street Story of the Week | May 22, 2012 |
In the 1950s and '60s, highway-building projects poured billions of dollars of asphalt and concrete over rural landscapes and tore the hearts out of traditional urban neighborhoods. In 1966, the passage of the federal Department of Transportation Act took steps to protect historic and cultural resources through the inclusion of Section 4(f). Over the years, Section 4(f) has forced planners to develo highway projects that protect historic resources, such as the French Quarter in New Orleans and Fort McHenry in Baltimore, It is the strongest federal preservation law on the books, and its loss would be a devastating blow to efforts to protect America's heritage.
What is Section 4(f)? Part of the Department of Transportation Act which established the Department of Transportation 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 hundreds of times over the past 35 years to keep the nation's heritage from being bulldozed and blacktopped, as examples from around the country show. Section 4(f) has become an indispensible safeguard to protect our historic and cultural resources.
How is Section 106 Different? Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires consultation between agencies and the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). However, a process that requires only considering the impacts of the project, but no mandate to avoid or minimize those impacts, provides much weaker protection for historic resources. Fortunately, the evaluation process under section 106 is fortified by the substantive protections of section 4(f) for transportation projects.
What is the Legislative Threat? The House-passed surface transportation reauthorization bill, H.R. 4348, would single out historic sites to exempt them from the substantive protection of Section 4(f), and instead would rely solely on the consultation process under Section 106. However, the consultation requirement alone does not provide adequate protection for historic resources – historic resources are not kept from harm as required under section 4(f).
Case Study: Michigan Street Bridge, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin The historic 1930 Michigan Street Bridge in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, is an unusual rolling-lift, bascule-type bridge, with two counterweighted spans that pivot upward to allow boat traffic to pass underneath. In the late 90s, the Wisconsin DOT wanted to demolish and replace the bridge. Section 106 was not successful in protecting this historic bridge. In early 1997, the ACHP signed an agreement that authorized demolition of the bridge over the objection of local citizens.
In 1998, the National Trust for Historic Preservation began collaborating with local preservation advocates to protect and preserve the bridge. Because of Section 4(f), the federal and state transportation agencies changed their plans, with the support of city and county officials. The historic Michigan Street Bridge was rehabilitated and an additional two-lane bridge was constructed nearby. Section 4(f) was instrumental – where Section 106 had failed – in leading to a better transportation solution and saving a historic resource with enduring value to the community.
Organizational Sign-on Letter
NTHP and our national preservation partners are coordinating an organizational sign-on letter expressing preservation concerns to conferees. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org by May 23rd to sign your organization on to this letter. In addition, please forward to other national, state, or local organizations that may be interested in signing on. Click here to view the letter.
National Call-in Day
On Wednesday, May 23rd, advocates from all over the country will be weighing in with conferees on why the streamlining provisions contained in Title VI of the House proposal are harmful to the environmental and historic preservation review process. Please call your member and use attached talking points to make the case for historic preservation. To find your member’s phone number, call the capitol switchboard at 202-224-2131. Click here for talking points.
Outreach to Senate and House Tranportation Conferees
The National Trust and our national preservation partners are focusing on outreach to conferees, especially to those we believe will help make the case for preservation (names on bold).
E.B. Johnson (D-TX)