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Section 4(f)

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What is Section 4(f)?

Section 4(f) is actually a specific section of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1966. As such, Section 4(F) only applices to agencies within the USDOT.

"It is hereby declared to be the national policy that special effort should be made to preserve the natural beauty of the countryside and public park and recreation lands, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and historic sites. The Secretary of Transportation shall cooperate and consult with the Secretaries of the Interior, Housing and Urban Development, and Agriculture, and with the States in developing transportation plans and programs that include measures to maintain or enhance the natural beauty of the lands traversed. After the effective date of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968, the Secretary shall not approve any program or project (other than any project for a park road or parkway under section 204 of this title) which requires the use of any publicly owned land from a public park, recreation area, or wildlife and waterfowl refuge of national, State, or local significance as determined by the Federal, State, or local officials having jurisdiction thereof, or any land from an historic site of national, State, or local significance as so determined by such officials unless (1) there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of such land, and (2) such program includes all possible planning to minimize harm to such park, recreational area, wildlife and waterfowl refuge, or historic site resulting from such use. In carrying out the national policy declared in this section the Secretary, in cooperation with the Secretary of the Interior and appropriate State and local officials, is authorized to conduct studies as to the most feasible Federal-aid routes for the movement of motor vehicular traffic through or around national parks so as to best serve the needs of the traveling public while preserving the natural beauty of these areas." 23 U.S.C. 138

Section 4(f) resources include any publicly owned public parks, recreational areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, or public and private historical sites.  According to this statute, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation may approve the use of land from Section 4(f) resources only if:

  • There is no prudent and feasible alternative to such use and
  • The project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the resource

In August 2005, Section 6009(a) of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) made the first significant revision to Section 4(f) since the USDOT Act was signed in 1966.  SAFETEA-LU simplified the process and approval of projects that have only de minimis impacts on lands impacted by Section 4(f).  Once the use of Section 4(f) property is determined to be a de minimis impact, analysis of avoidance alternatives is not required and the Section 4(f) evaluation process is complete.  For historic sites, a de minimis impact has no impact or no adverse effect.  For parks, recreation areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, a de minimis impact is one that does not adversely affect the features, attributes or activities qualifying the property for protection under Section 4(f). 

SAFETEA-LU also required the US DOT to issue regulations that clarify the factors to be considered and the standards to be applied when determining if an alternative for avoiding the use of a section 4(f) property is feasible and prudent. On March 12, 2008 FHWA issued a Final Rule on Section 4(f), which clarifies the 4(f) approval process and simplifies its regulatory requirements.

For more information on Section 4(f):

FHWA Section 4(f) Final Rule, March 12, 2008

Section 4(f) Policy Paper, March 1, 2005

FHWA Environmental Review Toolkit – Project Development – Section 4(f)

FHWA Environmental Guidebook – Section 4(f)

Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO: Section 4(f)

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Maryland Department of Transportation


707 North Calvert Street Baltimore, Maryland 21202