Environmental Review Toolkit

Section 4(f) Tutorial

Section 4(f) Properties


Among the basic types of properties protected by Section 4(f) are historic sites, sometimes referred to as cultural resources. Since the term cultural resources is more general and may include other aspects of the human environment, this tutorial uses the term "historic sites " to be consistent with applicable statutes and regulations. In order to qualify for protection under Section 4(f), a historic site must meet the following criteria:

  • It must be of national, state or local significance.
  • It must be on or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places The Nation's official list of historic properties worthy of preservation. (NRHP).

Unlike the other Section 4(f) property categories—parks, recreation areas, and refuges—historic sites do not require public ownership in order to qualify for protection under Section 4(f).


Like Section 4(f), Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 also mandates consideration of a project's effect on historic sites. Because of their similarities, the relationship between Sections 4(f) and 106 is sometimes a source of confusion. But it is important to remember that they are two different laws with different requirements for compliance that are most efficiently addressed in a coordinated approach.

The most important connection between the two statutes is that the Section 106 process is generally the method by which historic properties are identified that would be subject to consideration under Section 4(f). The results of the identification step under Section 106 - including the eligibility of the resource for listing on the NRHP, the delineation of NRHP boundaries, and the identification of contributing and non-contributing elements within the boundary of a historic district—are a critical part of determining the applicability of Section 4(f) and the outcome of the Section 4(f) evaluation.

The most important difference between the two statutes is the way each of them measures impacts to historic sites. Whereas Section 106 is concerned with adverse effects, Section 4(f) is concerned with use. The two terms are not interchangeable and an adverse effect A term that may apply to the impact to a property which is on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Adverse affect refers to the diminishment of a property's integrity, with respect to its location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, or association. determination under Section 106 does not automatically equate to a Section 4(f) use of the property. Review the "Related Statutes " section of this tutorial for a more in-depth discussion of the relationship between Section 4(f) and Section 106.


It Must be of National, State or Local Significance

A historic site is considered significant, for Section 4(f) purposes, if it is on or determined eligible for listing on the NRHP. In order to be considered eligible for the NRHP, a historic site must retain adequate integrity to convey its significance and meet one or more of the following criteria at the state, local, or national level:

  • Be associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history;
  • Be associated with the lives of persons significant in our past;
  • Embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
  • Have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory.

Eligibility for listing on the NRHP is determined by FHWA, in consultation with the SHPO, THPO, and/or tribe(s), during the identification step of compliance with Section 106 of the NHPA.


Examples of the types of historic sites you may encounter include:

  • Historic Buildings
  • Historic Transportation Facilities
  • Archeological Sites
  • Traditional Cultural Places
  • Historic & Archeological Districts
  • Historic Trails

Historic Buildings

A historic building, such as a house, barn, church, or hotel, is created principally to shelter human activity.

Historic Transportation Facilities

Historic bridges and highways are protected under Section 4(f) in the event that their existence or historic integrity (the criteria for which they are designated historic) is adversely affected by a transportation project. As long as there are no adverse effects A term that may apply to the impact to a property which is on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Adverse affect refers to the diminishment of a property's integrity, with respect to its location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, or association. determined under the Section 106 process, restoration, rehabilitation, and maintenance to the facility can proceed without being considered a use under Section 4(f). The Interstate System as a whole is exempt from consideration as a historic site under Section 4(f), with the exception of certain individual elements of the Interstate System, which have been determined to be of national and/or exceptional significance.

Archeological Sites

Section 4(f) applies to archeological sites that are on or eligible for listing on the NRHP, including those discovered during construction, except when the resource is important chiefly because of what can be learned by data recovery and has minimal value for preservation in place. This applies both to situations where data recovery is undertaken and where the FHWA decides, with agreement from the officials with jurisdiction, not to carry out data recovery at the site.

Judgments about a site's importance and preservation value are made by the FHWA after consultation with the SHPO and/or THPO, Federally recognized Indian Tribe as appropriate, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) if participating in the project.

In the event that an archeological site which warrants preservation in place is discovered during construction, the Section 4(f) process may be expedited and any required evaluation of feasible and prudent avoidance alternatives will take into account the level of investment already made. The review process, including the consultation with other agencies, will be shortened as appropriate.

Traditional Cultural Places

Traditional Cultural Places are resources whose significance are derived from the role they play in a community’s historically rooted traditional beliefs, customs, and practices. These types of places may be eligible for the NRHP if they meet the eligibility criteria. These types of resources are especially, but not exclusively, associated with Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations.

Historic and Archeological Districts

Historic and archeological districts are considered Section 4(f) properties if they are determined eligible for the NRHP. An individual property within a historic or archeological district is subject to consideration under Section 4(f) if it is on or eligible for the NRHP individually or if it is an element that is considered "contributing " to the characteristics that qualify the district as an eligible property. Impacts to non-contributing elements of an historic district typically would not constitute a Section 4(f) use.

Resources within the boundaries of a historic district are usually presumed to be contributing unless they are identified as non-contributing. Application of these criteria for eligibility requires coordination and consultation with the SHPO and/or THPO, as well as an understanding of the property's role within the district and its own historic significance (or lack thereof).

For archeological districts, an archeological site would not be considered subject to Section 4(f) if, after consultation with SHPO and/or THPO, FHWA makes one of the following determinations:

  • The use of the site does not adversely affect the integrity of the archeological district.
  • The use is limited to a portion of the archeological district that (1) is chiefly important for what can be learned by data recovery, and (2) has minimal value for preservation in place.
image of historic district

Alternate View

Historic Trails

Public Law 95-625 states that no land or site located along a designated National Historic Trail is subject to the provisions of Section 4(f) unless such land or site is deemed to be of historical significance under the criteria for the NRHP. Only lands or sites adjacent to historic trails that are on or eligible for the NRHP are subject to Section 4(f). Otherwise (pursuant to Public Law 95-625), National Historic Trails are exempt from Section 4(f).