February 3, 2012

Cultural Cuts: Transportation Enhancement Program

What does transportation have to do with historic preservation? 

Transportation and preservation share a goal: creating better lives for Americans. Historically, badly conceived road projects have damaged important parts of the nation's heritage. The devastation was most obvious after the highway-building binge of the '50s and '60s: billions of dollars of asphalt and concrete marched into rural landscapes and dissected traditional urban neighborhoods.

Americans have learned that there are better ways. The federal Department of Transportation Act of 1966 included Section 4(f), which forced planners to develop projects that protect or avoid historic resources like the French Quarter in New Orleans and Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

In the last ten years, the addition of transportation enhancements has given communities more than 17,000 projects of the kind they want, such as bike paths, rails-to-trails conversions, and Main Street improvements. Historic neighborhoods and downtowns have also benefited from improved transit, which makes it easier to get to jobs, homes, shopping, and entertainment.

Individual case studies and other resources also demonstrate the need for maintaining a strong Section 4(f) regulatory presence as well as more advanced transportation planning concepts and designs to keep community character and cultural resources intact while preserving traditional land use patterns.

House Transportation Committee Passes Reauthorization Proposal

The House Transportation Reauthorization bill H.R.7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012, passed out of committee at 2:30 a.m. this morning (February 3, 2012). The bill is a three-year reauthorization that was hastily-assembled and was introduced with only 24-hour public notice as Congress works against a deadline of the current authorization’s extension deadline of March 31. Final vote in committee was 29-24

Some cultural funding items with the Transportation Enhancement (TE) section of the bill had their eligibility deleted including the establishment of transportation museums, historic preservation and rehabilitation of historic transportation buildings. The popular Safe Routes to Schools programs was also deleted from specific eligibility. Also, the 10 percent apportionment set-aside for TE was repealed meaning that those funds are no longer explicitly available for these activities. The bill sponsors consistently argued that funding for all these activities is still available to state departments of transportation even if their eligibility is not affirmed in the federal statute. 

Public art, which receives funding through the landscaping and beautification section of the bill, appears to be untouched by this proposal and the amendment process. Americans for the Arts will monitor the committee report language closely in the coming days to ensure that is still the case as the legislation heads to the House Floor. 

Click here to find out more about federal funding opportunities in the TE program. Click here to review Transportation Enhancement Program profile for Oklahoma.

Americans for the Arts has reached out to committee members and the Congressional Arts Caucus committee staff to advocate for cultural funding. They are also working with a national coalition and organizations like Rails to Trails to restore some of the programs.

The committee hopes to have the bill on the floor the week of February 13, but exact scheduling is unknown.

OFTA will provide updates via Americans for the Arts as they become available.

Click here for transportation and historic preservation case studies.