historic roads exist unchanged and unaltered since first conceived
and constructed. Many historic roads have a “history”
of evolution and changes that present the modern observer
with an array of layers, alignments, materials, alterations,
accommodations, and even losses over the years. When identifying
a historic road, it is also important to investigate the current
status of the road. Only with a complete understanding of
the road’s history and its current status can a comprehensive
plan of action (preservation, restoration, interpretation,
advocacy) be undertaken.
Threats and Destruction
Many historic roads face severe
losses, threats and destruction. Someone or some policy determines
the road should be widened or straightened, the cast-iron
lights are a safety hazard or stone curbing is to be replaced
with concrete. Often such actions are undertaken without an
understanding or appreciation for the road as an historic
resource—the action a part of standard transportation
When identifying negative impacts
to an historic road it is important to understand the origin
behind the activity. Safety is the reason most often cited
to justify an action on a historic road. Other common issues
are congestion, maintenance (a new material or detail is easier
or less expensive to maintain or repair; or an historic replacement
part is no longer available) and expense.
Most threats to historic roads
fall within four categories: realignment, replacement, demolition
and regional or outside pressures.
Realignment refers to the adjustment or movement of the horizontal
or vertical alignment of the historic road. Realignment is
cited when the proposed shift represents only a portion of
the historic road—the activity reconnecting to the historic
alignment at some point. Realignment may be as simple as a
shift in the travel lanes to soften a sharp curve or as destructive
as several miles of new road abandoning the original alignment.
The replacement of road and roadside features can greatly
alter the context and integrity of an historic road. A historic
road is a collection of details—cobble gutters, concrete
paving, art deco lighting, limestone bridges, park lawns,
woodlands, sandstone outcroppings and Beaux Arts balustrades.
It is likely time, wear or even accidents may necessitate
the replacement of an element or elements of a historic road.
Every effort should be made to replace the elements with like
materials, constructions, finishes and forms in their original
location. While the improvement of such features with modern
technologies (such as reinforcing guardrail or providing a
“break-away mechanism” for lighting) may be considered
for safety or maintenance, the replacement of historic materials
with imitation products or false finishes, is an example of
incremental destruction and should be carefully considered
and likely avoided.
Destruction refers to the complete removal of a historic roadway
or roadside element. There are two types of destruction—complete
and incremental. The loss of an entire historic road, through
a single action, is an example of complete destruction. It
is possible that the same destruction could occur incrementally
over a period of years, even decades, through cumulative losses,
realignments, replacements and other activities, that combined,
ultimately result in a complete destruction. Incremental destruction
can occur through a systematic policy or program to replace
the historic road, or through a series of seemingly unrelated
events and policies.
Regional threats address the broader landscape and region
in which your historic road is located. Are changes in the
area, seemingly unrelated, having an adverse effect on your
historic road? New development, the extension of sewer and
water lines, or shifts in tourism may suddenly increase the
traffic volume on your historic road—altering driver
behavior, speed and safety. Does the change contradict the
design origins and purpose for which the road was designed—a
parkway becoming a commuter route or a farm to market road
transformed into a commercial strip? Of all the types of threats,
regional threats are the most difficult to control. Still
by being cognizant of, and anticipating such possibilities,
you can work tominimize negative impacts through advanced
planning or policy.
Safety and liability concerns
drive many of the actions, activities and management decisions
for all roads in the United States. The federal, state or
local government that owns the road not only has a public
duty to make the road as safe as possible, but most likely
also carries the legal responsibility (liability) for maintaining
a safe road.
Safety goals and expectations
continue to change and evolve with technology and driver behavior.
With few exceptions, historic roads, regardless of an illustrious
past, must meet many of the expectations and obligations of
the modern highway network. While a historic road may have
been a safety innovator and model fifty years ago, it is likely
new safety regulations will govern its management today. There
exist, however, innovative safety options and strategies that
can enhance a historic road’s safety while also respecting
preservation goals. Some solutions may be simple—the
redesign of a cast iron lamp post in a light-weight steel
that offers a break-away feature should it be struck by an
errant automobile. Others may be more involved (and expensive),
such as the placement of a concrete core inside an historic
stone wall to meet modern crash standards. Still others may
involve cutting edge technology and creativity such as intelligent
transportation systems, speed management or traffic calming.
It is essential to assess the current safety and liability
status of a historic road in order to advocate for or implement
alternate methods and solutions more appropriate for a historic
When identifying issues of safety
and liability concerning a historic road, it is helpful to
determine the following:
Most every road in the United States is owned and managed
by the federal, state or local government. In a few rare instances
a road may be privately owned and managed. Ownership impacts
virtually every decision from physical elements, funding and
maintenance to the ethic a particular organization may have
toward historic preservation. The managing agency (often a
state transportation department or local department of public
works) will have information on future plans and activities
for roads under their jurisdiction.
All roads in the United States are identified by a “functional
classification” characterizing the road’s use.
Functional classification is the basis from which most all
management decisions, design requirements and safety policies
arise. Functional classifications are: freeway, arterial,
collector and local.
Land use planning policy (zoning, master plans, comprehensive
plans), perhaps seemingly unrelated, can have a significant
impact on historic roads. Plans that allow for or encourage
suburban sprawl can put unexpected pressures on historic roads
as populations grow and transportation patterns adjust to
new destinations. Conversely, plans that encourage agricultural
preservation or smart growth my, by default, preserve the
character of historic roads by working to maintain a service
level that allows the road to continue functioning safely.
It is important to understand all the problems, real or imagined,
associated with your road. High accident rates, capacity issues
or problems with speed or pedestrian safety should be understood
and acknowledged. Specific regional concerns such as avalanche,
frost heave, flooding, tsunami or earthquakes may place special
burdens on historic roads not considered originally, or may,
through new technologies, present new opportunities.
Liability concerns are based in safety considerations, but
are the direct result of public policy and law. What is the
risk the road owner (managing agency) carries? Will the state
or local government managing a historic road carry a burdensome
risk, or be accused of negligence should an accident, injury
or fatality occur on the road? Every state’s laws vary.