The Importance of Transportation Enhancement Grants to Historic Preservation

Historic preservation and transportation enhancement grants/funding are incredibly interconnected; so much of preservation work throughout this nation is funded by transportation grants. Why? Part of it has to do with federal regulations – Section 4(f) of the DOT Act of 1966, which is connected to fact that many transportation projects prior to that law devastated and erased historic resources. Now, a chunk of transportation money goes to funding transportation related preservation projects in your community. Think of streetscapes, sidewalks, rest areas, parks, rails to trails, bike lanes, historic buildings that related to transportation – the list is almost endless. Without Transportation Enhancement funding, our historic communities would look much different.

A bike path travels across a truss bridge on a dirt road - a good incorporation of a historic bridge that can longer service vehicles.


The view from that bridge. This project wasn't necessarily a TE grant project, but it is a good example of similar projects.

Recently, these Transportation Enhancement grants were at risk of being eliminated. Thankfully, on September 15, the Senate voted in favor of the transportation fund and saved the funding for another six months.

From the words of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

Last week, we posted a call for action to help save the Transportation Enhancements (TE) Program. We are pleased to share that for now, funding for TE remains intact.

On September 15, a six-month extension of the transportation program (SAFETEA-LU) passed without a harmful amendment that would have stripped the TE program of its dedicated funding.

While this is excellent news, we must remain vigilant as future threats are likely. Congress will negotiate the long-term reauthorization of the TE program in the next six months. We will be asking for your help in communicating to your Members how important this program is to your state.

Visit our expanded transportation-related content on PreservationNation to explore the many ways historic preservation and transportation can combine to enrich communities. Find us on Facebook and Twitter to stay updated on this issue and others that affect the historic places that matter to you.


I’m sure I’ve rambled on about the connections between historic preservation and transportation. If you look around you and consider how many elements relate to traveling and mobility, a light bulb should go on in your head: sidewalks, roads, bike paths, historic bridges, transportation structures, parks… the list doesn’t really end. If you are interested in the actual legal connections, The Center for Environmental Excellence of AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a non-profit group that represents all DOTs) provides a thorough explanation of transportation related cultural resource laws.

Now, back to Transportation Enhancements. From the US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA):

Transportation Enhancement (TE) activities offer funding opportunities to help expand transportation choices and enhance the transportation experience through 12 eligible TE activities related to surface transportation, including pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and safety programs, scenic and historic highway programs, landscaping and scenic beautification, historic preservation, and environmental mitigation. TE projects must relate to surface transportation and must qualify under one or more of the 12 eligible categories.

Those 12 eligible categories are defined as these:

  1. Provision of pedestrian and bicycle facilities
  2. Provision of pedestrian and bicycle safety and education activities
  3. Acquisition of scenic or historic easements and sites
  4. Scenic or historic highway programs including tourist and welcome centers
  5. Landscaping and scenic beautification
  6. Historic Preservation
  7. Rehabilitation and operation of historic transportation buildings, structures, or facilities
  8. Conversion of abandoned railway corridors to trails
  9. Control and removal of outdoor advertising
  10. Archaeological planning and research
  11. Environmental mitigation of highway runoff pollution, reduce vehicle-caused wildlife mortality, maintain habitat connectivity
  12. Establishment of transportation museums.

See how broad these categories are? You can probably find a connection in your project, or make connections in order to qualify for transportation grants. Each state has different programs – check it out on the National Transportation Enhancements website.

The FY 2010 National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse report states that since 1992, over $12 billion have been apportioned for transportation enhancements grants. WOW!  What a difference TE money has on our communities. Grants have even funded preservation projects for transportation related hotels. Check out examples of TE projects. Search by state to find one near you. You’ll be surprised at what has been funded by TE grants.

Now imagine if this money was suddenly cut from the budget? All of the activities and projects that connect our communities to each other and our history would be lost. Transportation is more than potholes, paving and plowing; it is essential to our everyday lives and our environment.

As cheesy as this sounds, I like to think that it all comes back to transportation because you wouldn’t be anywhere if you couldn’t get anywhere. What do you think? Ridiculous? Too trippy for a Friday afternoon? Think about it.

Now, I’m curious. Readers, were you aware of the transportation-preservation-community connection in terms of funding or even theory? It’s so normal to me, but before I worked in transportation, it wasn’t as obvious. Let me know! What do you think of TE grants?

The approach to the Cross Vermont Trail bridge - go for a bike ride this fall!