Reformation of Federal Transportation Laws and Impacts to Historic Resources: Call to Action

Congress is currently debating legislation to reform federal transportation laws, and unless they hear from concerned citizens, there is a chance that historic preservation programs will be eliminated.

Some members of Congress have proposed eliminating the Transportation Enhancement program, which enables states and communities to use a small portion of their federal transportation dollars on projects such as the preservation of historic transportation facilities, rehabilitation and operation of historic transportation buildings, and the preservation of abandoned railway corridors for use as pedestrian or bicycle trails. The elimination of the Transportation Enhancement program will not save a dime of taxpayer money, as the funds will be shifted to road building or other purposes. But it would end a successful program that saves historic spaces, enhances communities, and creates jobs.

As it stands now, there are several other provisions on the table that could have a profound and negative impact upon our historic places by:

  • Categorically exempting certain transportation projects from historic or environmental reviews or substituting weaker protections
  • Drastically reducing funding for preservation projects currently permitted via the Transportation Enhancements program, and
  • Establishing arbitrary deadlines to force the automatic approval of complex projects

Historic resources related to transportation have been in a precarious situation for a while, especially railroad related resources. In 2010, Oakland lost the last building associated with the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad, the 1874 Southern Pacific Car Paint Shop. Numerous local groups and the National Trust for Historic Preservation Western Regional Office lobbied to save this important ‘last of its kind’ resource. Union Pacific went ahead an demolished the building, citing exemption from state and local preservation review laws, including the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) based on their interpretation of the Surface Transportation Board (STB) regulations which retains exclusive jurisdiction only over railroad facilities that are “integrally related to the railroad’s provision of interstate rail service.” We believed that this building should not have been subject to STB, as the retention of the unused structure would in no way have interfered with interstate commerce, but they interpreted it otherwise.

With the situation already precarious, we must not let any further eroding of protections for these types of resources to pass. Numerous organizations, including the National Trust’s Preservation Action and AIA are lobbying to get their members to take action. Please act now to tell Congress not to eliminate these programs.

For more information on the transportation proposal visit:

To sign the AIA petition