Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act
What is Section 4(f)?
Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Act of 1966 prohibits the FTA and other USDOT agencies from using land from publicly owned parks, recreation areas (including recreational trails), wildlife and water fowl refuges, or public and private historic properties, unless there is no feasible and prudent alternative to that use and the action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from such a use. See 23 CFR Part 774.
Section 4(f) has since been recodified but it is still referred to as Section 4(f) today.
What are Section 4(f) uses?
[Text to be developed]
What are Section 4(f) de minimis impacts?
In August 2005, Section 6009(a) of SAFETEA-LU amended existing Section 4(f) legislation in 23 USC § 138 and 49 USC § 303. The amendment simplified the process and approval for projects that have only de minimis impacts on lands subject to protection under Section 4(f). De minimis impacts are of such a minor extent they do not require a full Section 4(f) evaluation. Specifically, an analysis of avoidance alternatives is not required.
What is included in a full evaluation of Section 4(f)?
The Section 4(f) evaluation may be written as a stand-alone document or incorporated into an environmental assessment (EA) or an environmental impact statement (EIS) as a separate chapter; the latter is the most common practice.
A Section 4(f) evaluation must address the following:
- Purpose and need for the project
When the Section 4(f) evaluation is included in the environmental document, the purpose and need should be referenced. When a Section 4(f) evaluation is not included in a NEPA document, briefly describe the proposed project and explain the purpose and need for the project.
- Description of the Section 4(f) resources
Provide a description of the Section 4(f) resources that could be used by any of the alternatives being considered for the project. Include details such as property size, ownership, primary function, any planned facilities for the property, access, relationship to surrounding lands. It is also recommended to include other clauses which affect the ownership and a map of the property.
- Description of the use of Section 4(f) properties, as defined in 23 CFR § 774.17
To facilitate understanding, include a graphic to illustrate the use of the property by the proposed project. You may provide a table to summarize impacts from alternatives if it improves readability.
- Description of avoidance alternatives and a discussion of the basis for concluding that there are no feasible and prudent alternatives to the use of the Section 4(f) land, as required in 23 CFR § 774.17
Describe the evaluation conducted to develop alternatives avoiding each Section 4(f) property, and provide a detailed description of the findings.
- Discussion of measures to minimize harm
A discussion of the basis for concluding that the proposed action includesall possible planning measures to minimize harm to the Section 4(f) propertiesincluding measures such as any avoidance, minimization, mitigation or enhancement measures.If there is no feasible and prudent avoidance alternative, then of the remaining alternatives, FTA may approve only the alternative that causes the least overall harm as defined in 23 CFR § 774.3.
- Describe coordination
Include a summary of the coordination efforts with public officials that have jurisdiction over the Section 4(f) property.
How are alternatives to avoid the Section 4(f) resource developed?
Use of Section 4(f) land can occur only after a discussion has concluded there are no feasible and prudent alternatives to the use of the land. The supporting information must demonstrate consistency with the requirements for a prudent and feasible evaluation as required in 23 CFR § 774.17. Supporting information must illustrate that there are unique problems or unusual factors involved with the alternative that could avoid the use of Section 4(f) land. These factors include findings that the alternatives result in costs of an extraordinary magnitude, unacceptable and severe adverse social, economic or other environmental impacts, operational or safety problems, or community disruption of extraordinary magnitudes. Note that any alterative that is determined to not meet the need of the project, including the no-build alternative, is not a feasible and prudent alternative. Once there are alternatives identified as prudent and feasible, a determination of which alternative has the overall least harm must be discussed as is stated in 23 CFR § 774.3.
- FHWA Guidance for Determining De Minimis Impacts to Section 4(f) Resources
- FHWA Environmental Review Toolkit: Overview of Section 4(f) Regulations, Policy Paper, Evaluation, and Programmatic Evaluations
- FHWA/FTA, Section 4(f) Regulations (2008)(23 CFR. Part 774)
- The Department of Transportation Act (DOT Act) of 1966– Section 4(f) – stipulates that all DOT agencies cannot approve the use of land from publicly owned parks, recreational areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, or public and private historic sites unless there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of the land and the action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from use.
- FHWA, Section 4(f) Policy Paper (2005).
- Although the Section 4(f) Policy Paper is guidance prepared by FHWA, FTA looks to the guidance often for public transportation projects. The guidance is based on court decisions, experience on policies developed by FHWA and USDOT over the uses over the years.
- FHWA/FTA, Questions and Answers on the Application of the Section 4(f) De Minimis Impact Criteria ( 2006)
- Department of Interior Letter to Federal Transit Administration regarding environmental and project reviews under the National Environmental Policy and Section 4(f).
- AASHTO, Practioner’s Handbook No. 11: Complying with Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act (2009)
- Example Section 4(f) Letter from FTA to the Department of Interior