Federal Transportation Policy
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 1950s 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 requires transportation planners to develop projects that protect or avoid historic resources, such as the French Quarter in New Orleans or Fort McHenry in Baltimore.
Section 4(f) is periodically challenged through the transportation reauthorization process by proposals to weaken its protection. Attacks on 4(f) loom each time Congress debates reauthorization of federal transportation policy, and preservationists need to be ready to make the case for its importance.
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.
During debate of the most recent federal transportation bill, 2015’s Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, preservationists fought off attempts to dismantle section 4(f). In addition, the FAST Act provides new authorization for federal transportation funds to be spent on activities that enable preservation professionals to identify and protect historic sites, as well as influence the planning, design and development of transportation projects.
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 50 years, have effectively protected historic and natural resources, and ensured that the public voice is heard in the transportation planning process.