Transportation Legislation Threatens Section 4(f)

By Adam Jones posted 10-27-2015 11:42

  
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Fort McHenry, a National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, was once threatened by a highway project. However, the Section 4(f) review process ultimately led highway officials to drop the elevated bridge idea and instead build a tunnel under Baltimore Harbor – a project that came in on time and under budget. | Credit: 1flatworld via flickr creative commons
A preservation law that has protected the nation’s historic places from threats posed by transportation projects for nearly half a century is at risk as never before. On Thursday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee favorably reported a long-term transportation bill, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (H.R.3763), clearing the way for the bill to be voted on by the full House of Representatives. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has advocated fervently against a particular provision (Section 1301) in the bill that could significantly undermine the nation’s strongest preservation law, known as Section 4(f).

Section 4(f) was enacted in 1966 as part of the law to establish the Department of Transportation. Congress included this strong statutory safeguard to avoid destroying historic and other protected sites for construction of transportation projects. The language of Section 4(f) requires the preservation of a threatened historic site unless there is “no feasible and prudent alternative” and the project includes “all possible planning to minimize harm.” This statutory requirement has become an indispensable safeguard to protect our nation’s historic and cultural resources.

We are very concerned that Section 1301 of H.R.3763 eviscerates the Section 4(f) requirement that transportation projects take the least harmful alternative around a historic landmark, if avoiding it altogether is not feasible and prudent. This will unnecessarily place at risk countless of our nation’s historic resources and prevent them from being preserved for future generations. This deregulatory provision first appeared in the Obama Administration’s GROW AMERICA Act proposal for transportation policy, and was also included in the Senate-passed long-term transportation bill, the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act.

 Section 4(f) was enacted in 1966 as part of the law to establish the Department of Transportation. A transportation bill now threatens this strong statutory safeguard to avoid destroying historic and other protected sites for construction of transportation projects. | Credit: flamouroux via flickr creative commons
 Section 4(f) was enacted in 1966 as part of the law to establish the Department of Transportation. A transportation bill now threatens this strong statutory safeguard for historic and other protected sites for construction of transportation projects.| Credit: flamouroux via flickr creative commons
Opponents of Section 4(f) argue that this change is needed to streamline and improve the transportation project review process, despite acknowledging that there is no data to suggest this provision would actually speed up the review process. In reality, this provision would have exactly the opposite effect. Among other things, this provision creates a novel bureaucratic process that places the burden of determining what does or doesn’t constitute “a feasible and prudent alternative” upon State Historic Preservation Officers, who have clearly stated they are not qualified to evaluate the feasibility of transportation projects.

In addition to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, this provision has been opposed by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Civil War Trust, the Society for Historical Archaeology, the American Cultural Resources Association, Preservation Action, and several other conservation and preservation organizations.

Future prospects for the bill are uncertain. Action on the bill or a temporary extension of the existing Transportation Act is necessary before October 29. Unfortunately, because the harmful policy provisions have been included in multiple proposals it will be difficult to modify. Keep an eye on this space for updates in the weeks and months ahead.

#Transportation #Legal #Section4f #Advocacy

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