Federal Transportation Legislation

Transportation and preservation share a goal: creating better lives for Americans. Historically, ill-conceived road projects have damaged important parts of the nation's heritage. The devastation was most obvious after the highway building surge of the '50s and '60s when billions of dollars were invested into road systems that impacted rural landscapes and dissected traditional urban neighborhoods.

Since that time, Americans have learned that there are better ways to both develop necessary transportation infrastructure and preserve historic resources. The federal Department of Transportation Act of 1966 included Section 4(f), which forces planners to develop projects that protect or avoid historic resources, such as the French Quarter in New Orleans or Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

Surprisingly, Section 4(f) is periodically challenged through the transportation reauthorization process by proposals to weaken its protection. Section 4(f) was threatened during the 2012 consideration of MAP-21, but preservationists prevailed and 4(f) remains intact. However, attacks on 4(f) loom as Congress debates reauthorization of the transportation bill, and preservationists need to be ready to once again make the case for its importance. Several letters have been sent to Senate leadership in support of a robust Section 4(f), including one from the National Trust, one from the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers and one from a coalition of organizations including the Trust.

Individual case studies and other resources demonstrate the need for maintaining a strong Section 4(f) -- as well as more advanced transportation planning concepts and designs -- to keep community character and cultural resources intact.