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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 75 · No. 1 > Guest Editorial

July/August 2011
Vol. 75 · No. 1

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-11-005

Guest Editorial

Preserving History at FHWA

Headshot of Robert Sparrow. The recent history of the United States of America is one of pride in diverse cultures. For Native Americans, history and culture are especially intertwined. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) recognizes the importance of preserving that connection by ensuring that the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 are carried out on the Nation's transportation projects. These laws and their implementing regulations are intended to ensure the preservation of historical and sacred sites, while safeguarding the environment.

FHWA's Federal Lands Highway Program provides financial resources and transportation engineering services for the planning, design, construction, and rehabilitation of the highways and bridges that provide access to traverse Federal and tribal lands. The program's vision is to create the best transportation system while balancing the values attached to those lands.

Organizations such as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials have critically acclaimed the program for innovations in the design and construction oversight of transportation projects so that they are built with minimum impact on the surrounding land, the cultural history, and the local environment. For example, Federal Lands undertook a project on the Hopi Reservation to remove overhanging and unstable rocks that threatened a community's only access road. The area was a sacred site, but with close cooperation and partnering with the Hopi leaders, the project was completed successfully.

One of the methodologies utilized by the Federal Lands Highway Program is context sensitive solutions. This collaborative, interdisciplinary approach requires that the design of a transportation project or facility fit its physical setting while preserving scenic, aesthetic, historic, community, and environmental resources.

Jointly administered by the Federal Lands Highway Program and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Reservation Roads Program provides funding to tribes to carry out transportation projects. Currently, 565 tribes within the United States are federally recognized. The preservation of their tribal cultures is critical to the success of the design and construction of any project funded through the Indian Reservation Roads Program. Since the passage of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, many tribes are carrying out their Indian Reservation Roads Program directly with FHWA. As a result, FHWA has become deeply involved with all aspects of tribal transportation.

For example, FHWA supports tribes in their road-building and maintenance activities through the Tribal Technical Assistance Program, which facilitates the transfer of valuable skills and knowledge to the tribal transportation workforce. FHWA also continues to play a role in the annual National Tribal Transportation Conference, which this year will be held in Nashville, TN, in November. (For more information on the conference, see the advertisement on the inside back cover of this issue.) Understanding, appreciating, and respecting tribal sovereignty and culture have never been more important.

For more on the importance of safeguarding cultural resources, see "Preserving Yesterday While Designing for Tomorrow" on page 16 in this issue of Public Roads. The article provides insight into the tools and methods that various departments of transportation are using to help identify and protect cultural resources.

Native Americans have a history unlike any other in America, and their lands should always be considered sacred and sovereign whenever a project is undertaken on or near them.

Robert Sparrow
Indian Reservation Roads Program Manager
Office of Federal Lands Highway
Federal Highway Administration

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