Environmental Review Toolkit

Section 4(f) Tutorial



There are five existing Nationwide Programmatic Section 4(f) evaluations that can be used in place of individual evaluations for certain types of highway projects and specific uses. The primary advantage of a programmatic evaluation is that it saves time. Unlike an individual evaluation, a programmatic evaluation does not require a draft, a comment period, or circulation, because its framework and basic approach has already been circulated and agreed upon by the US Department of the Interior (DOI). Project specific details are then applied to the programmatic to determine whether or not it can be used. Programmatic evaluations are usually approved much faster than individual evaluations.

Despite their differences, programmatic and individual evaluations are similar in their coordination with FHWA and officials with jurisdiction. The legal representative of the agency owning or administering the resource, unless the agency has delegated or relinquished this authority via formal agreement. For historic properties, the Official with Jurisdiction is the State or Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. Other similarities include the formatting and level of detail and analysis required. It is important to note that programmatic evaluations are not exemptions from Section 4(f) compliance.

The Five Programmatic Evaluations

To date, there are five programmatic evaluations that have been approved for use nationwide:

  • Independent Bikeway or Walkway Construction Projects (approved May 23, 1977)
  • Use of Historic Bridges (approved July 5, 1983)
  • Minor Involvement with Public Parks, Recreation Lands, and Wildlife and Waterfowl Refuges (approved December 23, 1986)
  • Minor Involvement with Historic Sites (approved December 23, 1986)
  • Transportation Projects that have a Net Benefit to Section 4(f) Property (approved April 20, 2005)

Note: If you are involved in a project with minor impacts to Section 4(f) property you should first check to see if the use qualifies for a de minimis impact determination.

Additional programmatic evaluations may be approved by the FHWA for use on a national basis.

Click here for a comparison of the five programmatic evaluations. click to view comparison chart


While each of the five programmatic evaluations has unique requirements, they all share a common structure, which addresses the following issues (more detail on each issue is provided below):


In order for a project to qualify for one of the programmatic evaluations other than the Net Benefit evaluation, the following conditions must be met:

  • The purpose of the project must be to improve the operational characteristics, safety, or physical condition of an existing transportation facility.
  • Improvements must be on the same alignment.
  • Section 4(f) properties must be adjacent to the existing transportation facilities.
  • Use of land or proximity impacts must not harm the remaining Section 4(f) property.

Projects using land from a site purchased or improved with funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCFA) or other similar laws—or land that is otherwise encumbered by federal interest—must be coordinated with the appropriate agency to determine the agency's position on the proposed land use.

Other than under the Historic Bridge and the Beneficial Uses programmatic evaluations, the project must not be processed with an EIS.

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Evaluation of Alternatives

The project documentation must show that the following avoidance alternatives have been fully evaluated and are not feasible and prudent:

  • Do nothing (the no-build alternative)
  • Improve (or "rehabilitate") existing infrastructure without using Section 4(f) land
  • Change the proposed alignment or location in an effort to avoid Section 4(f) land
illustration of a multi-use public park

Alternate View

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The findings must be supported by circumstances, studies and consultations with the appropriate agencies. In general, the findings must demonstrate the following:

  • There are no feasible and prudent alternatives to using the Section 4(f) resource.
  • Any avoidance alternatives do not meet the purpose of the project.
  • Normal maintenance will not correct any deficiencies or hazards addressed by the project.

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Mitigation & Minimization

The proposed project must include all possible planning to minimize harm, and the official with jurisdiction(s) must agree with the mitigation measures and the assessment of impacts from use.

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Early project coordination is necessary with the official(s) with jurisdiction, the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO) on tribal lands, DOI manager, and other interested parties. When an individual bridge permit is required, coordination with the United States Coast Guard (USCG) is also necessary. Written agreement from the official with jurisdiction is essential. Unlike individual evaluations, programmatic evaluations require no circulation of the document and no 45-day comment period.

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Approval Procedures

FHWA must determine that the project meets the following conditions:

  • the project meets applicability criteria for a programmatic evaluation
  • avoidance alternatives have been fully evaluated
  • no feasible and prudent avoidance alternatives exist
  • minimization and mitigation measures have been evaluated and incorporated
  • coordination is complete and all agreements have been put into writing

No legal sufficiency review by the FHWA Office of Chief Counsel is necessary for programmatic Section 4(f) approvals.

NOTE: Coordination and approval procedures are critical throughout the development of the programmatic Section 4(f) evaluation, not just after the document has been finalized.