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Case Study - Montana

Programmatic Agreement for the Evaluation and Treatment of Abandoned Historic Railroad Grades

Description of the Program:

The Montana Division, FHWA, recently executed a Programmatic Agreement (PA) to streamline the review of projects funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in the state of Montana. The PA establishes protocols for the National Register evaluation of abandoned railroad grades and for the standardized treatment of effects to eligible abandoned railroad grades affected by FHWA-funded projects.   

The PA applies to all historic abandoned railroad grades constructed in Montana after 1880 and at least 50 years old. Provisions include:  

  1. Delegation of responsibility to the Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) for all actions carried out under the PA, except for the resolution of disputes (for which FHWA remains responsible).
  2. The identification and evaluation of abandoned railroad grades as part of project review, in consultation with State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO). Grade segments will be evaluated for eligibility as National Register historic districts, with contributing and non-contributing elements identified.
  3. If MDT and SHPO determine that a particular abandoned railroad grade within the project APE contains historically significant features, MDT will develop and implement a plan to avoid or incorporate the features into the undertaking in a manner that preserves their historical significance and integrity.
  4. All abandoned historic railroad grades of lengths more than 2000 feet, and those associated with RR related buildings and structures (e.g. bridges, depots, stations, warehouses, water towers, shops, etc.) will be further considered in consultation in accordance with the ACHP's regulations.
  5. For project-related impacts to all NR-eligible abandoned railroad grades of less than 2000 feet in length, in lieu of case-by-case consultation, MDT will carry out measures detailed in the PA, including (1) funding for Montana Historic Society Press publications; (2) GIS files for all documented active and abandoned railroad routes in Montana (3) providing the SHPO with an annual summary of impacts to abandoned historic railroad grades; and installation of 10 interpretive signs about historic railroads by June 2015.

Analysis of Consultation and Agreement

This PA extends and expands a program for streamlined review that has been in place for more than a decade in Montana for abandoned railroad grades. It establishes a program that streamlines review for a type of historic property of little interest from the public, and in exchange, MDT is funding public interpretation, the publication of information about historic railroads in Montana, and producing detailed information on the locations and history of these railroad routes for the state.

Why this is a good agreement

Montana is the first state to execute a PA for the documentation and mitigation of effects to abandoned historic railroad grades It is a good example of the use of creative mitigation and a program alternative to address a common type of historic property, where effects are similar and repetitive, and the implementation of this PA has far greater benefit than is usually achieved in the standard Section 106 review process.

View a copy of the PA here.

For more information please contact

Posted March 15, 2011

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