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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Art and Non-Functional Landscaping in Federally Funded Public Transit Projects Frequently Asked Questions

Has the law changed regarding art in public transit?

Yes.  Prior to 2013, federal transit law permitted the use of FTA grant funds for costs associated with including art in public transportation projects. This was one of several types of projects termed “transit enhancements” for which transit agencies were required to spend a certain amount of their FTA formula grant funds.

Beginning in FY 2013, federal transit law no longer included art as an eligible project expense. (49 U.S.C. 5302, as amended by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), P.L 112-141.) In response to this change, FTA advised that while works of art not integral to a facility, such as sculptures, would no longer be eligible, transit agencies could continue to use FTA funds to support the employment of an artist as a member of a design team, or other costs associated with art, provided that the artistic elements were integrally related to the facility or served a functional transit-related purpose.

With the enactment of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), P.L. 114-94, in FY 2016, Congress established a new prohibition on the use of FTA funds for “incremental costs of incorporating art or non-functional landscaping into facilities, including the costs of an artist on the design team.” (49 U.S.C. 5323(h)(2) as amended by FAST.)

What FTA programs are now prohibited from funding art and non-functional landscaping?

This prohibition applies to all FTA programs and grants, including all programs authorized under Chapter 53 of Title 49, U.S.C. and other programs for which FTA serves as the grant making agency (e.g. TIGER).

Can local funds spent on art or non-functional landscaping be used to match the federal grant?

No.  Local funds used to match FTA funds may be spent only on eligible expenses. 

If my project was funded prior to December 4, 2015, and it includes the cost of non-functional landscaping, incorporating art, or an artist on the design team, can the transit agency still include these items in the project?

Yes.  The prohibition on FTA funds being used to pay for the incremental costs of incorporating art or non-functional landscaping into facilities, including the costs of an artist on a design team, applies only to grants (including full funding grant agreements) entered into on or after December 4, 2015, regardless of the year the funds were made available. This prohibition also includes grant amendments; open grants may not be amended to include these prohibited costs. A grant that includes these costs may be amended for other purposes consistent with FTA policy, such as to add incremental funding to a full funding grant agreement, but the grant or agreement may not be amended to add or amend these prohibited costs.

Aside from the cost to include an artist on a design team, how does FTA define the incremental costs of incorporating art or non-functional landscaping into a facility?

To begin with, it is important to understand the difference between the concepts of “art” and “design.” FTA expects all transit projects to be designed and built by professional architects, engineers, planners, interior and landscape design professionals, and those in other professional trades.  The building and surrounding landscape designs should incorporate aesthetic considerations, including but not limited to decisions regarding the use of light, shape, color, materials, the use of space, and the historic setting to achieve a functional and welcoming public transit facility.  In fact, the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines “design” in this context as “the arrangement of elements or details in a product[…]” and as “the creative art of executing aesthetic or functional designs.

Based on this definition, FTA does not interpret the law to exclude or prohibit the functional and aesthetic design of transit stations or related facilities, including designs intended to minimize adverse visual effects on the surrounding community as identified in the environmental review process.  For this reason, FTA will not require grantees to assess the often indeterminate incremental costs associated with functional design elements, including, but not limited to, the use of different types or colors of paint or tile, wayfinding elements intended to direct passengers or staff, or different or alternate construction materials in the design of a transit facility.

In contrast to design, FTA interprets the term “art” in this context as primarily aesthetic objects that do not have a meaningfully functional structural or transit-related purpose. “Art,” within the meaning of the statute, would include, for example, most decorative murals, sculptures, statues, musical installations, or similar objects or elements included for primarily aesthetic purposes.  Accordingly, in the case of primarily aesthetic elements or objects, FTA considers any costs directly associated with or attributable to creating, producing, or installing such elements or objects to be ineligible for FTA grant funding.

Can we install customized tiles in the entrance to our facility that showcase our city’s history and beauty, since the facility was designed to reflect our regional geography/culture?

Yes, in this example, the tiles would serve a functional purpose by protecting the interior walls or floors of the facility from deterioration. Hence, the cost of acquiring, arranging, and installing commercially available tiles that reflect local designs or aesthetics (e.g. a “southwestern” pattern) would be eligible for FTA grant funding.  However, if the transit agency decided to commission an artist to create a work of art on or from such materials, the costs attributable to the artist’s work would not be eligible for reimbursement or included in the total cost of the project for purposes of determining the Federal and local share.

What does FTA consider to be “functional” landscaping?

FTA recognizes that landscaping is an integral and functional element of many transit facilities.  For example, landscaping can be used to aid in the absorption or drainage of storm water, prevention of erosion, support of structures on a steep grade, minimization of noise impacts, protection of habitat,  provision of shade in hot climates, channeling of pedestrian or vehicle traffic, definition of publicly accessible and inaccessible areas, and many other purposes.  In interpreting the term “functional landscaping” under this provision of law, FTA draws a similar distinction, as with art, between functionally appropriate landscape design and landscape elements installed solely for visual or aesthetic appeal.

For example, an eligible landscaping expense would include the installation of shade trees near a passenger station entrance.  Likewise, FTA would allow the use of grant funds to install dense shrubs surrounding the area containing the transit system’s electrical equipment.  FTA would expect the grantee to select particular varieties of trees and shrubs that are well-suited for the particular location and climate.

Can you provide some examples of project costs that would be allowed and those that would not be allowed?

AllowableNot Allowed

Speakers in a transit station, intended to amplify announcements and/or provide background sound (e.g. white noise, music)

Commissioning an original musical composition to be played through speakers in the facility
Arranging and installing colorful or decorative tiles that are available commercially

The incremental cost of hiring an artist to develop the design or arrange the tiles in such a way as to serve a primarily aesthetic purpose

Visually appealing signage directing passengers within or around the facility

Murals, paintings, or other visual installations that are primarily intended to provide visual appeal

Functionally operable gates or fences designed using materials, images, or techniques inspired by local industries

A stone or steel sculpture within a waiting area drawing visitor’s attention to the history of local industry.  If placed on a rail platform or other surface requiring additional support, the cost to reinforce the platform or other surface under the sculpture would not be eligible.

When part of an eligible transit project that includes renovation of an historic transportation facility, restoration of murals, paintings, tiles, or other aesthetic features.