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August 9th, 2003, 04:26 AM
August 9, 2003

Your Neighborhood Highway


If you lived through the mid-1960's in an American city, your memories of the period are probably punctuated by the crash of the wrecking ball. In those days, the federal government's "urban renewal" program and the construction of the Interstate System were operating in high gear, flattening older buildings and even entire neighborhoods from coast to coast.

Eventually, Congress put the brakes on such destruction by adopting several important pieces of legislation, including the 1966 Department of Transportation Act. Specifically, Section 4(f) of the act states unequivocally that transportation officials must give paramount consideration to the protection of historic properties in planning their projects, making it the strongest federal preservation law on the books.

It has been invoked to great success, keeping countless historic places from being sacrificed to America's seemingly insatiable appetite for asphalt. The law prevented, for example, the construction of an elevated highway between the Mississippi riverfront and the historic French Quarter of New Orleans, and it helped persuade officials to build a tunnel under Baltimore's harbor instead of a bridge that would have loomed above Fort McHenry.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration has made changes that will eviscerate the law, and Congress will vote on them shortly. The proposed revisions would undo the most vital protection: forbidding highway construction at historic sites "unless there is no feasible and prudent alternative."

Instead, developers would merely be asked to conduct procedural reviews that "take into account" any historic resources that might be affected by their projects. The message to road-builders is unmistakable: try to avoid destroying America's heritage unless it's just too much trouble. That's a loophole big enough to drive a bulldozer through.

The revision effort is largely fueled by the perception in some quarters that measures intended to protect natural and cultural treasures cause major delays in road projects. That is dead wrong. A 2002 report by the General Accounting Office found that the studies repeatedly cited as justification for weakening preservation and environmental reviews are based on anecdotal evidence rather than fact.

Another report, this one prepared by the Federal Highway Administration itself, attributes road-building delays to many causes, with lack of money as the most common and environmental and preservation requirements ranking far down the list.

Everyone agrees that construction delays are both irritating and expensive, and preservationists are prepared to work with transportation planners to find ways to make the approval process more efficient and less time consuming. But weakening or eliminating parts of the 1966 transportation act won't gain us anything and could cost us a great deal.

Take Ocmulgee Old Fields, for instance. This tract near Macon, Ga., is dotted with ceremonial and burial mounds built by the Muscogee Creek Nation. Even though much of the site was ruled eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as a "traditional cultural property" the first area east of the Mississippi to be so designated the Georgia Department of Transportation wants to push a multilane highway through it. Right now, Section 4(f) is the only major regulatory barrier in its way. So if this essential piece of legislation goes, an important chapter in America's story is almost sure to be paved over.

Nobody wants that to happen, just as nobody wants to see more communities torn apart by transportation projects that are supposed to knit them together. Preservation and environmental reviews may be perceived as a nuisance to some, but saving something precious and irreplaceable for the benefit of future generations is surely worth a little extra time and thought.

We shouldn't be content to go down in history as a people who allowed movement to take precedence over place. Bulldozing America's past is not the way to to build roads to its future.

Richard Moe is president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

August 9th, 2003, 08:49 AM
I wish Bush would hit the road.

Hawaii has Interstate Highways.

Eisenhower, who was instrumental in gettiing the 1956 Highway Act passed, saw the military value of a national highway system during WWII (German Autobahn). However, a design requirement that one mile of every five miles of interstate roadway must be straight to accommodate airplane landings is not true.

Freedom Tower
August 9th, 2003, 09:28 AM
WOAH. Hawaii has interstate highways? Can they call them that if it doesn't connect two or more states?

August 10th, 2003, 06:10 PM
Bush is becoming the archnemesis of the environment and history...

TLOZ Link5
August 11th, 2003, 05:10 PM
What was the route of the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway, as long as we're on this subject?

August 11th, 2003, 06:20 PM
Quote: from TLOZ Link5 on 5:10 pm on Aug. 11, 2003
What was the route of the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway, as long as we're on this subject?

TLOZ Link5
August 11th, 2003, 08:18 PM

I can see why there was so much community opposition.

November 12th, 2003, 07:55 AM
November 12, 2003

The Road to Preserving History

Tucked inside federal transportation law is a small phrase that has done a fairly heroic job of protecting some of the nation's most important historic areas for almost 40 years. These few words in the 1966 Department of Transportation Act say that a federal highway project cannot destroy any historic area if there is a "prudent and feasible alternative." These words have blocked, for example, highways from paving parts of the French Quarter in New Orleans and Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

But as Congress begins negotiating a new transportation bill, the Bush administration and the highway lobby are trying to weaken those protections in the name of "streamlining" the process of building the nation's roads.

Instead of acting as a powerful deterrent against building roads through national treasures, the administration's proposal would rely on transportation agencies to decide what is historic. The agencies would then consult with communities over a site's importance. That sounds a lot like the old-fashioned way of building an interstate highway the "decide, announce and defend method." Consultation with property owners or communities would end up being a weak defense against the big bulldozers run by the highway crowd.

Beyond the obvious need to preserve historic sites for local communities, saving historic treasures can also help economic rebirth. Retaining a community's local color keeps one shopping mall from looking the same as the next. In central Georgia, for example, residents of Macon have been fighting a plan to put a road through the ancient Indian mounds called the Ocmulgee Old Fields. The fields, part of the Muscogee, or Creek, heritage, deserve to be part of the Ocmulgee National Monument near Macon. If the law is changed, it is not clear that those who want preservation will have an important voice in the decision.

Irritated motorists caught in traffic jams may think the answer is more roads, and they certainly have friends in Congress. But those same motorists, if asked, could hardly want the roads of the future to destroy what is left of their nation's past.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

TLOZ Link5
November 12th, 2003, 11:27 AM
This couldn't revive the LOMEX, could it?