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Successes in Stewardship
Monthly Newsletter
March 2007

Celebrating 50 Years of the Interstate

Photo of historic twin-bore Interstate 90 Mount Baker Ridge Tunnel in the state of Washington. Photo courtesy of WASHDOT
The historic twin-bore Interstate 90 Mount Baker Ridge Tunnel in the State of Washington is the world's largest diameter soft-earth tunnel. The tunnel, along with the other photographs featured in this newsletter, is included on the list of 132 features to be exempted from the Section 106 and Section 4(f) exclusions. (Photo courtesy of WASHDOT)
Photo of Glass House Restaurant which spans the Will Rogers Turnpike, Interstate 44, in Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.
The Glass House Restaurant spanning the Will Rogers Turnpike, Interstate 44, in Oklahoma is the first such facility constructed over a public highway in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Turnpike Authority)
Photo of 810 feet of stratified exposed rock at the Interstate 69 pass at Sideling Hill in Maryland.  Photo courtesy of Maryland Geological Survey.
Over 810 feet of stratified rock are exposed at the Interstate 69 pass at Sideling Hill in Maryland. (Photo courtesy of Maryland Geological Survey)

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 established the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (Interstate System), connecting cities and states nationwide through a network of roadways, highways, bridges, and tunnels. The Interstate System created a network of roadways and increased mobility throughout the United States. In 2006, the Interstate System reached a significant milestone, celebrating an historic 50-year anniversary. Reaching this milestone also raised the potential for a large part of the Interstate System to be classified as historic property, which would make it subject to the regulations of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Act. These regulations require Federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on such properties before planning even the simplest construction or maintenance projects.

In 2005, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) passed the Section 106 exemption, which exempts the majority of the Interstate System from being considered as an historic property under Section 106 of the NHPA. Section 6007 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) also exempts the majority of the Interstate System as a historic property, under Section 4(f). While these two exemptions removed the majority of the Interstate System from the jurisdiction of Section 106 and Section 4(f), they also allowed for special features of the Interstate System to still be subject to historic preservation regulations. Section II of the Section 106 exemption allows for certain elements of the Interstate system, such as bridges, tunnels, and rest stops, to be excluded from the exemption if they have national and/or exceptional historic significance. Section 6007 of SAFETEA-LU also adopted the same exclusion provision for the 4(f) exemption.

Exclusions from Exemptions

In response to the regulatory exemption, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) created a process for determining which Interstate System elements would be excluded. To be considered for exclusion, an element has to meet at least one of these four sets of criteria:

  1. National significance — The Interstate System element is at least 50 years old and meets the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places (National Register).
  2. Exceptional significance — The Interstate System element is less than 50 years old and meets the criteria of the National Register because of exceptional significance in areas such as engineering, transportation, social history, or commerce.
  3. Listed or determined eligible by the Keeper — The Interstate System element is already listed in the National Register or has previously been determined eligible by the Keeper of the National Register.
  4. State or local significance — At the discretion of FHWA, an Interstate System element of state or local significance can be included if it meets any of the above criteria.

FHWA and a team of Federal, state, and local stakeholders within each state used these criteria to establish a preliminary list of exclusions to the exemptions. The preliminary list was published in the Federal Register on June 16, 2006. FHWA received 55 sets of comments from state DOTs, state Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs), state and local governments, transportation-related organizations, and other private groups and citizens. Most of the comments requested the addition or removal of specific elements, while others suggested changing the selection process, stating that the procedure was either too inclusive or too exclusive.

Significant Features Excluded from the Exemption

The next challenge for FHWA was to organize and address all of the comments it had received. For comments that could result in a possible revision to the exemption list, FHWA consulted with the team of representatives who helped to formulate the preliminary list, asking them to review the comments and working with them to revise the list as appropriate given the national perspective. In a continuing effort to keep the public involved in the decision-making, in states where an element was being considered for addition to or removal from the list, the process included any stakeholders who had submitted comments.

During the comment period, 26 elements were removed from the preliminary list and six were added. The Final List of Nationally and Exceptionally Significant Features of the Federal Interstate Highway System, published in the Federal Register on December 19, 2006, included 132 features to be excluded from the Section 106 and Section 4(f) exemptions. These exceptional elements include 81 bridges, 22 highway segments, and 13 tunnels among other unique resources such as rest areas and parks.

The process of finalizing the exemption list illustrates the teamwork and coordination that goes into a public historic preservation project. For more information on the Interstate Exemption, please view the Successes in Stewardship May 2005 issue on Section 106, the February 2006 issue on SAFETEA-LU, and the FHWA Interstate Highway website.

Listing a Property on the National Register

For property being considered for the National Register of Historic Places, the following questions can determine eligibility:

  • Is the property associated with events that have made a significant contribution to American history?
  • Is the property associated with the lives of persons significant to our past?
  • Does the property embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction; represent the work of a master; possess high artistic value; or represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction?
  • Does the property yield important information about history or prehistory?

Unless there is some exceptional reason, properties that are considered eligible usually exclude cemeteries, birthplaces, graves of historical figures, religious structures, structures that have been moved from their original location, reconstructed historic buildings, commemorative properties, and properties that have achieved significance within the past 50 years. For more information on how to list a property, visit the National Register website.

Contact Information

MaryAnn Naber
Federal Preservation Officer
FHWA Office of Project Development and Environmental Review
400 Seventh Street, SW
Room 3222
Washington, DC 20590

Look What's New!

Visit the new SAFETEA-LU webpage for guidance and information on SAFETEA-LU environmental provisions. The webpage includes an Environmental Review Process Toolkit, with examples of the SAFETEA-LU Environmental Review Process implementation.

"Successes in Stewardship" is a Federal Highway Administration newsletter highlighting current environmental streamlining and stewardship practices from around the country. To subscribe, visit the Registration Site, or call 617-494-3137.
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