Section 106 & Section 4(f) Exemptions from the Exemption

Exemption from the exemption? If you’re in the regulatory + infrastructure world, you’ve likely come across this. If you are not, step into our world for a few minutes.


The “grasshopper bridge” in Lyndon, VT, carries Route 5 over I-91 and is an exemption to the Section 106 & Section 4(f) exemption. Meaning, this bridge is subject to project review, even though I-91 is not.

By law (the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966), all projects that receive federal funding are subject to review under Section 106. Review includes identifying historic resources that are listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Any project receiving transportation funding is required to be evaluated under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966.

But, what happens when one of largest resources in the nation becomes eligible for the National Register? By that I mean the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (more commonly known as the Interstate Highway System). This 46,700 mile interstate highway system became eligible for the National Register on June 29, 2006, which was its 50th birthday. (Read more about Interstate history here.)

As a transportation resource, this would typically require Section 106 and Section 4(f) review on this historic resource. Imagine the amount of project review that would have spurred as a result. A majority of work on the interstate is simply paving or repairs or line striping. Basically, this had the potential to bring unnecessary paperwork and delays to state and federal levels.

Instead, the bulk of the Interstate Highway System was declared exempt from being considered a historic resource under Section 106 and Section 4(f). In other words, the Interstate Highway System was exempt from project review. This is addressed under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU, Public Law 109-59, Aug. 10, 2005) / provision (Section 6007).

However, this exemption has exemptions! Elements of the Interstate Highway System that exhibit a national level of significance, as defined by the National Register of Historic Places, are not considered exempt, and will require project review. States submitted properties for consideration, and the final list was determined by the ACHP (Advisory Council on Historic Preservation) and FHWA (Federal Highway Administration). Find your state here.

Vermont has three elements, including the “grasshopper bridge” on I-91. Officially it is a steel rigid-frame bridge (built 1970) significant for its engineering. See the photograph at the top of this post. The official statement of significance is,

“This type of bridge is very rare on interstates in New England. In Vermont, two are on I-91; one each on northbound and southbound lanes carrying the interstate over Rte. 9 in Lyndon, Vermont. As of inspection on 01/12/05, structurally both bridges are in very good condition. Engineering-wise, this style was an experiment in 1960 and 1970 to determine if steel construction could take the variable weight loadings of an interstate environment. It was designed by a New York City firm, Blauvelt Engineering Co., and received a merit award from the American Institute of Steel Construction in 1974. The overall length of the bridges is 227 feet, 6 inches.”

Sadly, the steel arched deck truss in Brattleboro, VT that carries I-91 over the Williams River was not included in the list. It is uncommon bridge in Vermont, but not uncommon elsewhere on the interstate. Thus, it’s significance was not national. And when the bridge came up for replacement, no preservation law could save it. Thus, while not every bridge or element could be saved, the list is substantial, and better than exempting the entire system. Does your state have an interstate exemption? Have you seen it? Has your interstate lost an element not on the list?


Freeways to Boulevards and Parks: A Brief Introduction

Transportation tells the story of our culture: how we travel, in what style, what mode and to where. Depending on the design and form of our routes, it tells our priorities and the purpose of the roads.

Consider parkways of the 1920s-1940s: scenic, winding, stone bridges and underpasses, grassy medians, low speed limits. These roads were constructed for an enjoyable ride, making the journey part of the destination. Now consider interstates of the 1950s – 1970s or later: wide lane with wide shoulders, limited access, high speeds, blasting through the landscape. These corridors were built for efficiency and speed, getting the traveling public from one place to another.

Why is there such a difference in road construction? Just as our tastes in fashion, design, food, and culture change, so do our theories and methods of planning, construction, and transportation. Theories and methods change to fit our needs and wants, as evident by the evolution of our roadways.

Take note of where major highways are located, and you’ll see that many hug the waterfront of cities. These roads divide the waterfront from the city dwellers, which seem to ignore the potential high-value real estate. Don’t the best cities embrace their waterfront? Why would we ignore that by constructing roads instead of boardwalks, beaches, and parks? There are a few important factors to understand (note these are not all-inclusive).

(1) Until the modern era, the waterfront often represented the industry of a city. Shipping ports were major transportation centers, where goods would come in or leave the city. Waterfronts were for business, not play. Even little Burlington, Vermont had  waterfront filled with railroad lines, oil tanks, the lumber industry, etc. It was much different than today.

(2) Since the waterfront was not a cherished place in cities, especially as industry changed in the United States, building a road along the shorelines seemed to make sense. Transportation was replacing industry, particularly the shipping and rail industry.

(3) Before the interstate were the low speed (relatively speaking) parkways were constructed (think early Robert Moses era), driving was recreation and leisure. A Sunday drive was leisure time to Americans, and driving on a scenic highway adjacent to the the water made for beautiful views and a lovely afternoon.

(4) Interstates often replaced parkways. And interstates caused devastation through cities across the nation. However, building the interstate along the waterfront often was a path of least resistance, as they would transport vehicles around the city at high speeds, avoiding the congestion of inner city loops. .

(5) Recreation and city planning changed. Whether a parkway or an interstate, this pattern of development left the waterfront divided from city dwellers. At the time when these roads were constructed, people were moving out of cities, not living in them. The effects to a city were less noticeable than they might today. When people began living in cities as opposed to living in the suburbs, city dwellers wanted to reclaim the empty waterfronts.

Half a century later and development patterns and planning theories have indeed changed. Today cities across the country are working to remove (yes, remove!) freeways and reclaim the waterfront by turning the roads into boulevards or parks. An article 6 Freeway Removals That Changed Their Cities Forever (Gizmodo) is an amazing collection of examples around the world. On the east coast, you might know the Big Dig in Boston. On the west coast, Harbor Drive in Portland, OR is a well-know case study.

6 Freeway Removals That Changed Their Cities Forever

Harbor Drive in Portland, Oregon BEFORE freeway removal. Click for source & article.

6 Freeway Removals That Changed Their Cities Forever

Harbor Drive AFTER freeway removal. Click for source & article.

And there are many cities with proposals in mind such as Syracuse, New York and Niagara Falls, New York. PreserveNet keeps a website by the Preservation Institute detailing freeway removal projects. These are not minor undertakings. They are an incredible feats, requiring major design shifts. Improving quality of life within cities by giving pleasant open space to all speaks volumes to how we view and use cities today. Gone are the days when people are fleeing cities to the suburbs and need the roads to get in and out of the cities as quickly as possible. Instead, we see the value in these dense, urban environments. Quite the bold revitalization, and an example of what good a dramatic change can accomplish.

What do you think? Anything to add?


A Winter Drive

“Let’s go for a drive.”

Do you ever just drive to drive? Did you and your families take Sunday drives through the countryside for some family entertainment? In the days before automobiles, city dwellers took trolley rides out to the parks for picnics or carnivals or other entertainment. Sometimes they visited cemeteries, as many were designed as parks. When the automobile arrived on the scene, trolleys fell out of favor. (Read more about trolleys here.) With automobiles on the scene, people had greater freedom of mobility for work, travel and everyday things.

Surely as teenagers, we all drove around because we could. Nothing said freedom like driving around with your friends, whether it was to the beach, the diner or nowhere in particular. If you’re a professional now with a 9-5 job (or some form of 9-5) and “adult” responsibilities, do you still have the urge to drive? Maybe you don’t have the time for a road trip, but what about for an afternoon? Do you drive for any other reason than you have to?

This past weekend, Mother Nature graced Vermont with sunshine and blue skies (before she throws a March snowstorm at us this week). I could think of no better way to spend a late sunny Sunday afternoon than cruising the Vermont highways for a while.

US Route 2

US Route 2

US Route 2

US Route 2 (I-89 to the left)

A truss bridge in Richmond, VT

A truss bridge in Richmond, VT

VT Route 100, near the 100B junction.

VT Route 100, near the 100B junction.

Blue skies make up for the bare winter trees.

Blue skies make up for the bare winter trees.

Since a summer road trip seems so far off, these afternoon and day drives will have to suit me for now. What about you?  Stay warm and drive carefully in this upcoming storm.

The Upside of Interstates

The Eisenhower Interstate System began in June 1956, and changed the American landscape and culture forever. For much of my preservation life, I have only thought of the negative side of the interstate system. Interstates bypassed small town America, fueled sprawl, encouraged poorly designed developments at exits … basically everything that ruined America. Need a small town America sob story? Watch the Pixar movie Cars. It tugs at my preservation heart strings and makes the interstate the devil.

Driving up and down I-95 never helped, either. It is not a pretty interstate, particularly between New York and Virginia. The only positive associations I had associated with the interstate were the entertaining billboards for South of the Border and Ron Jon’s in Cocoa Beach, FL. However, while they were entertaining, they certainly did not help the scenery. Driving through Virginia and the Carolinas always showed glimpses towns that seemed to be split by the interstates — houses and old town centers just sitting on the side of the road.

My opinion of the interstate began to change in 2006 when I took a road trip with my mom and sister. We drove across South Dakota on I-90 and loved every bit of it. Yes, there were many billboards (think Wall Drug!)  but we loved the drive because of the new scenery and big Midwestern sky. Still, I knew what the interstates did to towns across America. There is no denying that small towns suffered and died and the pace of American life grew faster. We all changed. My opinion of the interstate was quite complicated by now, as I had traveled on the decommissioned Route 66 and read the harrowing effects of the interstates.

I recall driving from Southern Pines, NC out to Wilmington, NC and passing through “future corridors” of an interstate. A slow country highway was going be an interstate even though we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and these little crossroad towns would be forgotten. It hurt to think about. So, in general, I did my best to avoid the interstates – especially on road trips.

But, then I moved to Vermont. Our interstates do not have billboards. I-89 is beautiful, scenic and green. There is barely any traffic and I love driving on I-89. Once I started working on project reviews with the Agency of Transportation, I began to understand the benefit of interstates. This high speed road allows people to work far away from where they live. Vermont is a small state and some drive 75 miles each way. On the interstate, that’s not much more than a one hour drive — an easy one hour drive without traffic. This enables me to visit project sites, as well.

The biggest realization and change in my interstate opinion is that while interstates funnel much of the traffic away from village centers, they are also protecting the smaller state roads. In Vermont, many of our small towns have building directly adjacent to the road — practically on the road. Increased traffic often means upgraded safety standards, which equates to widening the roadways. If every state highway or smaller road had to be widened, then these buildings would be in the footprint of the road and severely affected or demolished.  And yes, the interstate system did cause destruction to the landscape and cultural resources, it is important to keep in mind that as preservationists we are also managing present actions with respect to the future. Thus, protecting the existing resources is important, and the interstates help in their own manner. For those who are commuting, the interstate is often the best route of transit; whereas we hope that travelers take the “blue highways” and appreciate the historic and cultural assets of Vermont.

My complicated feelings about the interstate will continue.  How about you?

Good resources for history of the interstate system are FHWA – Eisenhower Interstate System and the Interstate Highway System in Tennessee.

Road Trip Report 16

The Great Lakes Road Trip 2009 concluded on July 24 as Vinny and I made our trek from Columbus, Ohio to Long Island, NY.  On our way home, we did travel the interstate all across Ohio and Pennsylvania. This we did for a few reasons, but mostly because we had to get home due to a change in schedule.

Traveling along I-70.

Traveling along I-70.

Pip looking at the open road and wondering why we're on an interstate.

Pip looking at the open road and wondering why we're on an interstate.

By the end of the journey, we were tired and we had seen many new parts of the country.  As always, we were glad to see the familiar signs and Long Island landmarks. Unfortunately, part of that is the inevitable stop and go traffic on the infamous Belt Parkway. Twelve hours after we started, we finally arrived home and we were greeted by a rainstorm.

Crossing into West Virginia for a bit.

Crossing into West Virginia for a bit.

"Expect delays until September." Classic Staten Island, NY.

"Expect delays until September." Classic Staten Island, NY.



Leaving Brooklyn.

Leaving Brooklyn.

Just about home - sort of.

Just about home - sort of.

Final mileage. 3641 miles.

Final mileage. 3641 miles.

Tomorrow: overall recap.

A True Road Trip & a GPS

One of the iconic American adventures is the cross-country road trip.  Americans find road trips enthralling and glamorous, romanticized by ideas of the wind blowing, music playing, taking photographs, and bonding with your road trip companions, gas stations, rest stops, the middle of nowhere, adventure, no time commitments, and freedom. So many people imagine just packing up the car, driving away from the “real world” and having the time of their lives. The automobile and the highways have always given us tangible freedom.

Begin dreaming about the open road.  Answer this: which roads would you drive? Would you take the interstate or small highways? Would you have a destination (or is the journey the destination)? Would you plan ahead? Would you know how to begin? It’s a lot to consider. What constitutes a road trip? How do you define it? To me, a road trip should be as little interstate as possible, stops off the road, sightseeing on the way, staying in a town just because it’s a good place to stop, good music, belongings packed into the car … you get the idea.

I don’t like interstates, unless there is not another option or it’s necessary to squeeze in a weekend trip and a long drive. Interstates are efficient and practical with rest stops, but generally, interstates are boring, incredibly boring. Driving across I-20 & I-85 in South Carolina & Georgia to and from Birmingham was one of my least favorite long drives (barring terrible traffic on I-95). The most exciting vision was the Gaffney, SC peach.  However, I imagine that off the interstate would be a wonderful trip through small towns, big towns, the country, and a much better meeting with the states that the two – four lane interstates with billboards and shopping strips. Keep this in mind.

So, you are any average American citizen planning to travel across the country. Most of us will get directions from Google, MapQuest, AAA (and get free maps!), or the now common GPS. Very few of us can just start driving and use an atlas as we go; hence, the directions. Plus, having directions already can you plan for stops, saving time, energy, and money. The problem is that all of these methods send you by way of interstates, even if it’s not the shortest route. My mother recalls that AAA used to give scenic routes and helpful information, but in all of our recent experiences, it’s purely highlighting the route that MapQuest offers on the computer.

How are you supposed to see the best parts of America from the interstate? What if you want to take the scenic route, but don’t feel comfortable with just a map to guide you? As soon as you veer from the GPS’ directions, it tries to get you to turn around and head back to the intended route as soon as possible.

Consider a GPS program that would offer road trip ideas, itineraries, and routes. This would give people road trips who do not know where to begin or want something different. Or it would help to fuse the journey as part of the adventure. In fact, travelers can download turn-by-turn directions for a Route 66 adventure. And there is a Microsoft software program, Streets & Trips, that allows travelers to create their full trip itinerary, stops and all, ahead of time. It is a GPS receiver that plugs into a laptop, which needs to be plugged into your car and allows for rerouting and other alterations en route. Another GPS directed trip is from the GaperGuide, which allows people to take the driving tours of Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons National Park, offering information (history, stories, statistics, facts) about what visitors see along the way.

I can’t speak for any of these programs, but at least there are options for road trippers. However, if GPS scenic routes were created and people started traveling just a few roads, then problems of traffic, infrastructure, bypassing other places, etc. would possibly arise.  Granted, there would be many issues to resolve. Perhaps the GPS programs could start with historic routes in addition to Route 66, like the Lincoln Highway or the Dixie Highway or US Route 11.

How would you plan your road trip? Any suggestions for routes? Yes or no to the GPS road trip idea?

Interstates, Rest Stops, Service Roads, Old Asphalt, and Coffee

Often, we of the preservation vein will proclaim “Avoid Interstates!” in a voice so full of passion and conviction, that we cannot imagine why people choose the interstate over another road. Choosing an interstate alternative makes sense when you’re traveling out in the Midwest and the mountain states and you have a leisurely road trip planned; however, when you have one day to drive 600+ miles from New York to North Carolina, the interstate is your only option. Here, on the east coast, I understand why people choose the interstates: there is not another way that is as efficient to travel such a long distance. Granted, traffic on I-95 is inevitable, especially in Virginia, but traffic on the local highways would be worse. (I know this because I have tried).

So what is a preservationist to do on an interstate trip? Take delight in the rest stops, coffee, and service roads, of course! When I say rest stop, I am referring to rest areas, the kind situated just off the interstate with bathrooms, picnic tables, dog walks, soda and coffee machines, and welcome centers. If you check out the website Rest Area History, you will see that rest areas are often times wonderful examples of roadside architecture and key piece to the automobile craze in the United States. (It is a great site – thanks to Kelly Timmerman for sharing it!)

There is a stretch of interstate in southern rural Virginia that always intrigues me. South of Petersburg, there are few towns visible from the interstate, except for the outskirts of these tiny towns. One is Stony Creek, Virginia, and you can see the volunteer fire department building facing the interstate. Along this stretch it is easy to imagine how the interstate divided a town. Small ranch houses sit on either sides of the road looking incredibly lonely. Other scenes include abandoned service stations and small greasy spoon restaurants. The structures do not resemble the modern styles, which often receive the reaction “who would buy a house there?” Rather, the smaller dimensions and less grandiose features seem to be of the 1940s-1960s. The service road, perhaps, used to be the main highway, not nearly that of an interstate, and it was still peaceful to look out one’s front windows. Now the interstate noise and lights must deter owners from sitting outside.

Other scenes beyond the service roads are old farmhouses, their vernacular styles and tin roofs hidden beneath the overgrowth of vegetation, long abandoned. In a car you pass by too quickly to get a good look or photograph. I always want to stop, but it would probably be trespassing which is a) illegal and b) very obvious along an interstate. But shouldn’t one of us take on the task of documenting what is left along the service roads, whether former commercial strips, farm houses and outbuildings, or other? When passing “through” a town on the interstate, it is easy to think that the “town” consists of two houses, when really the interstate is the outskirt and the town is tucked behind those houses, with its own main streets. Do people in these bypassed towns take the responsibility of documentation? It is difficult to know, but something that we should address. What do you think?

I love when the asphalt no longer looks newly poured and it turns more grayish than black, with sparkling glass mixed into the surface. It just looks like more fun than a boring, new interstate. The “old” road surface with service roads to awake my imagination and of course, a hot mug of coffee can make even interstate traveling amusing for the preservationist.