Environmental Review Toolkit

Section 4(f) Tutorial



An individual Section 4(f) evaluation is processed in two phases—a draft and a final—both of which must be submitted to the FHWA Division Office or Federal Lands Division Office for review and approval. The final Section 4(f) evaluation is subject to a legal sufficiency review by FHWA’s Office of Chief Counsel. The review is intended to ensure that Section 4(f) requirements have been met, in case of a legal challenge to Section 4(f) use.

For projects processed with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) A process and document prepared pursuant to the NEPA for projects in which it's known that the action will have a significant effect on the environment. or an Environmental Assessment (EA), A process and document prepared pursuant to the NEPA for actions in which the significance of the environmental impact is not clearly established. the evaluation should typically be submitted as a subsection of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document where pertinent summaries from various sections of it are included. When putting an evaluation together as part of the NEPA document, make sure the Section 4(f) information is consistent with other references and information throughout the rest of the NEPA documentation.

For projects eligible as a Categorical Exclusion (CE), A category of actions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that has been found, through regulation and procedures adopted by a Federal agency, to have no significant impact, either individually or cumulatively, on the environment. the Section 4(f) evaluation should be a separate document. Other projects that require the Section 4(f) evaluation to be submitted separately include those with design changes that were made after the CE, FONSI or ROD was processed, and those in which design modifications substantially increase the use of Section 4(f) property after the original Section 4(f) approval.

Regardless of whether the Section 4(f) evaluation is processed independently or as a subsection of a NEPA document, the project sponsor must submit a draft that (1) identifies and evaluates avoidance alternatives and (2) identifies and evaluates measures to minimize harm to the Section 4(f) property.

Remember from the previous lesson, an avoidance alternative must avoid using any Section 4(f) property—an alternative that avoids one Section 4(f) property by virtue of using a different Section 4(f) property is not an avoidance alternative. If the Section 4(f) evaluation concludes that there is no avoidance alternative that is feasible and prudent, and more than one reasonable alternative uses Section 4(f) property, then the project sponsor must also evaluate which alternative that uses Section 4(f) property would cause the least overall harm.