Forum Journal & Forum Focus

New Jersey`s Partnership Approach for Protecting Historic Roads 

12-09-2015 17:35

Roads are an integral part of our daily lives; they have been for centuries. It`s how we get from here to there. In fact, roads are so enmeshed with our lives that often we take them for granted. We shouldn`t. Roads can greatly enhance our understanding of our collective past. The rumble of bricks or cobblestones under your tires immediately sends the imagination wandering back to bygone days. A twisting, winding road with lots of dips similarly conveys a different pace of life, a different means of conveyance. Clearly some roads hold a special place in our past. But what makes them historic?

For some roads it is their pavement: brick, cobblestone, early concrete, and wooden roads still exist in some places today. Other roads are important because they are the location of a significant event in our history: a civil rights march or wartime troop movements. Yet other roads are important works of design and engineering: lushly landscaped parkways or efficient elevated expressways. And then still other roads combine all, or some, of these characteristics.

New Jersey has a long and distinguished road-building history. Since colonial times, New Jersey has been a key link between the metropolitan areas of Philadelphia and New York. Characterized by Benjamin Franklin as a "barrel tapped at both ends," New Jersey met the challenge of being an important over-land transportation route between these major centers of economic development since the 1700s. Today, as the most densely paved state in the country,

New Jersey daily copes with 18 million vehicle trips on its roadways. New Jersey transportation officials and historic preservationists have taken a creative approach to protecting the state`s historic roads. When the traditional Section 106 review process involving a historic road became bogged down in debate over historic significance and eligibility, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office and the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) decided to work together as partners to find a better solution.


In the early 1990s, NJDOT and FHWA needed to replace several bridges. As federally funded projects they were subject to reviews for potential effects on historic properties pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. This review process raised several questions about the state`s historic roads, such as how to identify and establish their eligibility and how to assess the effects of transportation projects on historic resources. Reaching consensus was complicated by the lack of a contextual understanding of the state`s transportation history. Were all roads historic? Was it possible to judge the significance of a road or its integrity without understanding the history of roadway development in the state?

A Partnership Approach

Not surprisingly, the three agencies involved in the Section 106 review process had different goals, and reaching agreement on how best to deal with the question of historic roads in New Jersey was not an easy process. The state historic preservation office (SHPO) was primarily interested in recognizing that roads could be historic and that eligible roads need to be preserved to the greatest extent possible. The NJDOT was primarily interested in advancing its capital program for the maintenance and improvement of its roadway network and concerned that identification of a roadway as eligible would hinder the agency`s ability to accomplish its mission to deliver a safe and reliable transportation system. While FHWA was interested in ensuring that NJDOT effectively utilized its federal funds for roadway improvements, it also was responsible for ensuring compliance with federal regulations protecting cultural resources. With all of these interests at the table, it was no wonder that a simple solution was not readily evident. Initial attempts to work within the confines of the traditional Section 106 consultation process met with little success.

Complicating the consultation process in New Jersey was the lack of guidance available on identification of historic roadways. Frustrated by the lack of progress and driven by a need to find a solution that all involved agencies could live with, the NJDOT proposed that the three parties carry out a historic roadway study that would meet the goals of each agency. The purpose of the study would be to identify roadways of statewide significance; to establish thresholds of integrity for significant roads; to develop design treatment guidelines for eligible roadways; and to establish programmatic agreements on how these roadways will be maintained and improved in the future.

At the heart of the study was a desire to break the circular communication process and step outside the "process track" inherent in the traditional Section 106 consultation process. Rather than one agency offering an opinion that the other must comment on, this study would be carried out by staff from the FHWA, the NJDOT, and the SHPO offices. The agencies would evaluate the results of the study and reach agreement on the identification of significant resources.

The goals of the study, furthermore, would be structured such that each agency would have a vested interest in seeing the study advance since the study would address concerns or issues of importance to that agency. Finally, each agency agreed to put the identification of historic roadways in New Jersey on "hold" and not to raise the issue on a project -by- project basis until the statewide study was complete. This would allow all three agencies the opportunity to advance the roadway study without the pressure to address the issue for projects advancing through the project development process.

This "partnering" approach required each agency to accept the goals and mission of others at the table, even when those goals or missions were conflicting. It required willingness to compromise in order to reach the mutual goals established by the group and a commitment to work through issues and disagreements.

The Four Phase Approach

The New Jersey Historic Roadway Study was designed to address four basic questions. What roadways are significant? What other resources would you expect to find associated with a particular significant roadway? What type of design guidelines should you follow for transportation projects on roadways eligible for the National Register? What types of projects will have no or little effect on these eligible roadways so that they can be advanced in an expedient manner by mutual agreement among all three agencies? The study was broken down into four phases:

  • Phase I is intended to identify and establish the significance of historic road-ways in New Jersey and their associated resources and establish the factors of integrity needed for the roadway and its associated resources to be con-sidered eligible for the Nation-al Register of Historic Places.
  • In Phase II, design recommendations and guide-lines for roadway projects will be developed, consistent with the roadway`s significance, designed features, or historic theme so as to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects to the historic resource.
  • In Phase III, a field review of a select number of significant roadways will be conducted to determine their eligibility so as to verify that the study approach has been successful, the criteria developed realistic and resulting recommendations valid.
  • Finally, in Phase IV, based on the historic signifi-cance of the roadway, the scope of the roadway project being proposed and taking into consideration the design guidelines developed as part of this study, programmatic agreements will be developed that define what constitutes findings of "No Affect," "No Adverse Affect" (with or without recommended treat-ments), and "Adverse Effect."
As of May 2000, Phase I of the study is approximately 60 percent complete. A list of roadways with statewide significance has been developed and statements of significance for each is in progress. Completion of the entire study is anticipated by the spring of 2001.

Lessons Learned

Our efforts to protect historic roads in New Jersey have taught us several valuable lessons. What should preservationists in other states do to identify and protect their historic roadways? The first step is to identify why historic roadways are an issue for your community or state. Perhaps you are respond-ing to a specific threat, such as development or a road-widening project, or you are trying to protect the character of your neighborhood. You may want to work with the road owner/manager to pro-actively address maintenance and management issues. Or, you may represent either a transportation or historic preservation agency and need to address this issue from a regulatory standpoint. Regardless of why you are dealing with this issue, the more clearly you define your goals and the better you define milestones, the more realistically you can anticipate success.

Once you`ve defined your goals, establish the connection between the road and your goals. If your goal is the protection of your neighbor-hood from the degradation caused by sprawl, then pre-serving Main Street as a two-lane road may help. However, adjusting local zoning on adjacent properties for lower densities that correspond with current uses may be more effective and appropriate.

Choosing Partners

Now that you`ve established the history of your road, your goals, and the link between the two, it`s time to come up with a list of partners who can put their heads together with yours to develop a plan of action. Think about who can help. Who are the people and organizations with expertise, money, and jurisdiction? Local government agencies at the municipal and/or county level can help with public awareness, sponsor funding applications, and may have some jurisdictional control. The state department of transportation may have jurisdictional control, funding programs, and other programs to help you. Scenic Byways programs, nonprofit preservation advocacy groups at the state and/or local levels, the FWHA, and the National Park Service are other possible partners. Scout troops and civic groups may be able to provide volunteers for clean up or sign posting projects that garner positive press coverage and build community aware-ness for the significance of your road.

In approaching and working with partners, it is important to understand the tools they have available to help you, as well as potential limitations placed on how they can use those tools. For example, your DOT may have millions of dollars to spend each year, but it is probably divided among specific programs in advance. Many of these programs have eligibility criteria and specific funding cycles, both of which need to be factored in as part of any action plan. Initiatives undertaken with FHWA funding may require adherence to certain engineering standards, which may be more or less stringent than standards followed at the state or local level.

If you are approaching a transportation agency as a potential partner, ask for information on their design process. Projects don`t just happen. They often take years of planning and can cost hundreds of thousands-even mil-lions- of dollars to design. That`s a lot of money, and agencies are understandably reluctant to consider additional alternatives or redesign aspects of a project when this level of investment has already been made.

If you want to discuss different design concepts or changes in the project scope, the agency will be more likely to embrace your ideas if they are voiced at the appropriate time in the project development process rather than just before, or during, construction. Be cognizant of the implications, in time and money, when you backtrack the design process.

Keep in mind that your partners may have conflicting goals. Transportation agency representatives will be primarily concerned with the creation and management of a safe and efficient transportation system. State historic preservation office representatives seek to preserve significant aspects of the built environment. When evaluating the significance of transportation resources like roads and bridges, or when evaluating the effects of transportation projects on historic resources, these goals often collide head-on.


A partnership approach establishes a process for conflict resolution that provides each team member with a "win-win" approach to problem solving. It relies heavily on open communication and team building and establishing a positive working relationship built on mutual trust and integrity. At the outset, the mission of each team member and his or her organization must be acknowledged and recognized as valid, even when those missions conflict with each other.

Equally important is the development of a common language within the group. When preservationists and engineers gather to focus on issues relating to historic roads, the same word may have completely different meanings to each group. By developing a common language within the group, you may avoid future misunderstandings and conflicts that can be time consuming and will break down forward momentum toward your goals.

Finally, it is important that you each invest time in setting up a relationship with your partners and separating the person from the issues. Learning to distinguish between John as a person and John as a project manager is part of recognizing the mission of the agency and the role that John must play as a representative from that agency.

Achieving solutions and reaching goals through the partnering process takes time … this isn`t a quick fix.

Since there are so many different types of roads and so many different potential partnering arrangements, what works for one group or for one road might not work in every case. Solutions must be customized to deal with the wide range of roadway types and the goals of the partners involved in the study.

In New Jersey, a statewide study was a solution. In other instances, a management plan for a particular resource may be the best method to reach a goal. Look to other management plans, partnerships, and studies for examples that may best suit your needs or goals. Expect your goals and solutions to evolve with the passage of time.

And finally, be patient enough to work in incremental steps. Trying to deal with everything at one time may be too overwhelming for some partners based on their available tools and prescribed limits.

Publication Date: Summer 2000

#Public Lands

Author(s):Andrea Tingey & Miriam Crum