GIS for Transportation: Principles, Data and Applications

2.5 Next Week's Webinar



Next week we will have a webinar with Dr. Ira Beckerman. Dr. Beckerman has been the Cultural Resources Section Chief for the Bureau of Design at PennDOT since 1998. Trained as an archaeologist (Ph.D. Anthropology, Penn State, 1986), he has worked as a field archaeologist in Mexico, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. His 22 years of transportation experience is split between PennDOT and (previously) the Maryland State Highway Administration. Dr. Beckerman’s research interests include archaeological predictive modeling, pre-contact Eastern North America, and GIS. He is a member of the Society for American Archaeology, Register of Professional Archaeologists, and the Transportation Research Board’s Archaeology and Historic Preservation Committee, and has served on panels for TRB and the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Dr. Beckerman was a 2001 recipient of the PennDOT Star of Excellence. His group also recently led an effort to develop a predictive model for archaeological sites which serves as a valuable tool for screening projects early in the planning process.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA)

The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) was passed into law in 1966. The purpose of the law is to protect historic and archaeological sites of significance. One outcome of the NHPA was the creation of the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), which is a list of districts, sites, and structures deemed worthy of protection. There are more than 1 million properties currently on the list and about 30,000 additional properties are added annually. Section 106 of the NHPA specifically requires historical and archaeological sites to be assessed for impact as part of any federally funded project.

To gain a better understanding of the Section 106 process, take a look at A Citizen’s Guide to Section 106 Review, a brief overview put together by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Also, watch the following video which describes the process which agencies need to follow to comply with Section 106 of NHPA.

Click for transcript of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. This will expand to provide more information.

There are several areas of environmental law that local public agencies, or LPAs, might encounter on a Federal-aid project. These areas address a project's effects on: the natural environment; things like air and water quality, wetlands, wildlife or endangered species, the social environment; things that affect our quality of life, like the displacement of homes or businesses or community cohesion impacts, particularly as they relate to minority and low-income populations, historic sites, and parks and recreation areas. The National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA, provides a framework for environmental analyses, reviews, and series of discussions known as consultations. NEPA's process "umbrella" covers a project's compliance with all pertinent Federal environmental laws. While NEPA provides a coordinated environmental review process, the related environmental law specifies what an agency must do to comply with its particular requirements, which can vary widely. One such law, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, requires Federal agencies to consider the effects of their projects on historic properties. A historic property is any prehistoric or historic district, site, building, structure, or object that is included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the State Historic Preservation Officers, or SHPOs, administer the federal or state historic preservation program. The National Historic Preservation Act does not mandate preservation of historic properties; however, if your project receives Federal-aid funding, your agency must participate in a consultation process that considers the effects of your project on those properties. Depending on the project, consulting parties may include: the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, your SHPO, the Tribal Historic Preservation officer, Federally recognized Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian Organizations, local governments, and the public. Let's take a look at the consultation process and the responsibilities of agencies in complying with the National Historic Preservation Act. While the consultation process is somewhat iterative, there are four basic steps: initiate consultation, identify and evaluate historic properties, assess effects, and resolve effects To initiate consultation, a local agency typically sends a letter of correspondence to either the SHPO or the State’s department of transportation, or State DOT, identifying the project, the project location, and who is involved. And if known, an agency will also identify any historic properties in the project area. In order to properly identify and evaluate any potential archeological and historic sites, an agency needs to utilize a qualified employee or hire a consultant. The evaluator will begin by performing file and literature searches to determine if the property is on or potentially eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places. The resulting report summarizes the site's setting and historical context, project information, including maps, and any cultural resources that were identified. If there are no historic properties in the project area or no adverse effects are likely to occur to ones that are present, an agency will issue a letter with its findings, which completes the consultation process. On the other hand, if adverse effects are likely to occur, an assessment must be made. An adverse effect occurs when an element of a historic property is altered in a manner that diminishes the integrity of the property’s location, design, setting, materials, workmanship or association. For example, noise or visual blight can be considered an adverse effect. The public and the consulting members of the project team can help determine any adverse effects resulting from the project. Once potential adverse effects are identified, an agency needs to evaluate possible alternatives or modifications that would help resolve the effects by avoiding, minimizing, or mitigating them. For example, the alignment of a road might be altered to avoid affecting a historic property, or a commemorative publication or plaque might be erected. The process concludes when the agency finalizes a memorandum of agreement between consulting parties. To illustrate the process, let’s consider a drainage and road improvement project in a town we’ll call Old Towne, which was established in the early 19th Century. To initiate the consultation process, the project manager sends a letter to the SHPO describing the project and providing a map of the project area. The city of Old Towne hires a consultant with recent experience developing similar studies for the State DOT. During the course of her literature review, she discovers evidence of an early 19th-Century tavern at the corner of 1st and Main. During a site visit, she confirms that there is no longer any evidence of the tavern from the ground's surface. The project team then conducts a subsurface investigation of the area and finds the foundation of the tavern and an outhouse. Further excavation indicates that the site might yield important information about the lifestyle of Old Towne’s earliest residents. Unfortunately, given its proximity to the street, the drainage and road improvement work would destroy the archeological site. To resolve the adverse effects, the project team consults with the SHPO, the local historical society, the State DOT, and the Federal Highway Administration’s division office. After the artifacts are analyzed and a report is prepared, the team agrees to erect an interpretive sign describing what was found and to give any recovered artifacts to the county museum. With everyone satisfied with this arrangement, the project team concludes the consultation process by writing a memorandum of agreement. As we have seen, as a sponsor of a federally-aided transportation project, your agency may be required to conduct studies and coordinate with other parties. The necessary activities and degree of your involvement depend on the nature of your project and your State DOT’s practices. Your State DOT can help you navigate the requirements and develop approaches that adequately evaluate and address your project’s effect on historic properties.

Cultural Resources GIS

Many states have developed GIS-based systems to help state agencies and other interested parties identify historic properties and known archaeological sites and assess their proximity to planned projects. Spend some time exploring the Pennsylvania’s Cultural Resources Geographic Information System (CRGIS). CRGIS was created and maintained through a collaborative partnership between the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) and PennDOT.

Archaeological Predictive Modeling

A number of efforts have been undertaken in recent years to use predictive modeling to identify locations which are likely archaeological sites. In Pennsylvania, FHWA, PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) and URS Corporation partnered to create such a predictive model which is described in brief here. The model uses data from known archaeological sites together with spatial algorithms to rank areas based on their likelihood of having artifacts. These data are then used in evaluating potential projects and alternatives.

Assignment 2-6 (10 points)

Based on your review of the background materials for next week’s webinar, submit a write-up in M.S. Word format to Assignment 2-6 in Canvas which addresses the following 5 items:

  1. What are the four steps in the Section 106 Consultation Process? (2 points)
  2. Under Section 106, what is an adverse effect? (2 points)
  3. What types of data are not displayed in CRGIS to guest users and why? (2 points)
  4. In CRGIS, examine the area bounded by State College Borough. Turn on the PennDOT projects layer and grab a screen shot of the resulting map. (2 points)
  5. How might a predictive archaeological model be useful in planning transportation projects? (2 points)

Assignment 2-7 (5 points)

After reviewing the background material for next week’s webinar and the biography for next week’s speaker, come up with 3-5 questions which are clearly stated and are relevant to the webinar topics. Submit the questions to Assignment 2-7 in Canvas.

Webinar Questions Rubric (5 points)
Criteria Ratings Points
Question Quality
Excellent: Questions were clearly worded, demonstrated a thorough review of the background material and thoughtful reflection and insight on the part of the student.
5.0 pts
Satisfactory: Questions were somewhat clear, demonstrated some review of the background material and some reflection and insight on the part of the student.
3.0 pts
Poor: Questions were unclear and/or demonstrated little or no review of the background material and/or demonstrated little or no reflection and insight on the part of the student.
1.0 pts
5.0 pts
Total Points: 5.0