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.
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?