Additional Information on Section 4(f) and Programmatic Evaluations
What is Section 4(f)?
Section 4(f) refers to the original section in the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1966, which provided for consideration of park and recreation lands, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and historic sites during transportation project development. Section 4(f) applies only to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), now codified at 49 U.S.C. § 303 and 23 U.S.C. § 138, and is implemented by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) through the regulation 23 CFR part 774.
FRA has two Nationwide Programmatic Section 4(f) evaluations that can be used in place of individual evaluations for certain types of rail and transit projects. The primary advantage of a programmatic evaluation is that it saves time. Unlike an individual Section 4(f) evaluation, a programmatic evaluation does not require a draft, a comment period, or circulation, because its framework and basic approach has already been circulated and agreed upon by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Project-specific details are then applied to the programmatic evaluation to determine whether it can be used. Programmatic evaluations are usually approved much faster than individual evaluations. Despite their differences, programmatic and individual evaluations are similar in their coordination with FRA or FTA environmental staff and officials with jurisdiction. Other similarities include the formatting and level of detail and analysis required. It is important to note that programmatic evaluations are not exemptions from Section 4(f) compliance.
On December 8, 2020, FRA and FTA jointly issued a Federal Register notice to adopt two of FHWA’s nationwide programmatic Section 4(f) evaluations for certain transportation projects that use historic bridges or that have a net benefit to Section 4(f) properties. The adoption of the programmatic evaluations became effective on January 7, 2021, with Federal Register notice 85 FR 79072. The full texts of the five FHWA Section 4(f) programmatic evaluations are available here:
While each of the adopted programmatic evaluations have unique requirements, they both share a common structure. The full text of the Section 4(f) programmatic evaluations adopted by FRA and FTA is listed below.
Note: If you are involved in a project with minor impacts to Section 4(f) property, you should first check with FRA environmental staff to see if the use qualifies for a de minimis impact determination.
Coordination and approval procedures are critical throughout the development of the programmatic Section 4(f) evaluation, not just after the document has been finalized.
On July 5, 1983, FHWA approved the use of a programmatic Section 4(f) evaluation and approval for FHWA projects that necessitate the use of historic bridges. The historic bridges programmatic evaluation sets forth the basis for a programmatic Section 4(f) approval that there are no feasible and prudent alternatives to the use of certain historic bridge structures to be replaced or rehabilitated with Federal funds, and the projects include all possible planning to minimize harm resulting from such use. The historic bridges programmatic evaluation can be applied to a proposed project that meets the following criteria:
- The bridge is to be replaced or rehabilitated with Federal funds.
- The project will require the use of an historic bridge structure that is on or is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
- The bridge is not a National Historic Landmark.
- FRA or FTA, as appropriate, determines the facts of the project match those set forth in the Historic Bridges Programmatic Evaluation (Alternatives, Findings, and Mitigation sections).
- Agreement among FRA or FTA, as appropriate, the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has been reached through procedures pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
Note: More information on the Nationwide Historic Bridges Programmatic Evaluation can be found in the original Federal Register notice, 48 FR 38135– 03, July 5, 1983.
Technical Modifications to FHWA’s Historic Bridges Programmatic Evaluation
The Agencies (FRA and FTA) are replacing the terms ‘‘Federal Highway Administration’’ and ‘‘FHWA’’ with ‘‘Federal Railroad Administration,’’ ‘‘Federal Transit Administration,’’ ‘‘FRA,’’ or ‘‘FTA,’’ as appropriate. The Agencies are replacing ‘‘FHWA Division Administrator’’ with ‘‘Associate Administrator for Railroad Policy and Development, or designee,’’ or ‘‘FTA Regional Administrator, or designee,’’ as appropriate. Additionally, the Agencies are modifying the reference to a ‘‘Federal-aid highway system or a state or local highway system’’ to include a ‘‘rail or transit system.’’
Note: More information on the Nationwide Historic Bridges Programmatic Evaluation can be found here:
On April 20, 2005, FHWA approved the use of a nationwide programmatic Section 4(f) evaluation for uses that have a net benefit to a Section 4(f) property from certain federally funded transportation projects. A net benefit is achieved when:
(1) The transportation use, the measures to minimize harm, and mitigation incorporated into the project result in an overall enhancement to the Section 4(f) property when compared to both the future do-nothing or avoidance alternatives and the present condition of the Section 4(f) property; and
(2) the use will not result in a substantial diminishment of the function or value that made the property eligible for Section 4(f) protection.
The net benefit programmatic evaluation cannot be applied to a project if FRA or FTA, as appropriate, and the official(s) with jurisdiction over the Section 4(f) property cannot reach an agreement that the project will result in a net benefit to the property. The net benefit programmatic evaluation applicability criteria are as follows:
- The proposed transportation project uses a Section 4(f) park, recreation area, wildlife or waterfowl refuge, or historic site.
- The proposed project includes all appropriate measures to minimize harm and subsequent mitigation necessary to preserve and enhance those features and values of the property that originally qualified the property for Section 4(f) protection.
- For historic properties, the project does not require the major alteration of the characteristics that qualify the property for the NRHP such that the property would no longer retain sufficient integrity to be considered eligible for listing. For archeological properties, the project does not require the disturbance or removal of the archaeological resources that have been determined important for preservation in-place rather than for the information that can be obtained through data recovery. The determination of a major alteration or the importance to preserve in-place will be based on consultation consistent with 36 CFR part 800.
- For historic properties, consistent with 36 CFR part 800, there must be agreement amongst the SHPO and/or THPO, as appropriate, FRA or FTA, as appropriate, and the Applicant on measures to minimize harm when there is a use of Section 4(f) property. Such measures must be incorporated into the project.
- The official(s) with jurisdiction over the Section 4(f) property agrees in writing with the assessment of the impacts; the proposed measures to minimize harm; and the mitigation necessary to preserve, rehabilitate, and enhance those features and values of the Section 4(f) property; and that such measures will result in a net benefit to the Section 4(f) property.
- The Administration determines that the project facts match those set forth in the Applicability, Alternatives, Findings, Mitigation and Measures to Minimize Harm, Coordination, and Public Involvement sections of this programmatic evaluation.
Note: More information on the Nationwide Net Benefit Programmatic Evaluation can be found in the original Federal Register notice 70 FR 20618, April 20, 2005.
Technical Modifications to FHWA’s Net Benefit Programmatic Evaluation
The Agencies are replacing the term ‘‘FHWA’’ with ‘‘FRA’’ or ‘‘FTA,’’ as appropriate. The Agencies are also modifying the following definitions:
- ‘‘Administration’’ to refer to the Federal Railroad Administration or the Federal Transit Administration, as appropriate.
- ‘‘Applicant’’ to be more broadly defined as follows: ‘‘Applicant’’ refers to the Federal, State, local, or federally recognized Indian Tribal governmental unit, or other entity, including any private or public-private entity that seeks Federal funding or an Administration action for a project.
Note: More information on the Nationwide Net Benefit Programmatic Evaluation can be found here: