A Synthesis of Construction Vibration and Potential Effects to Historic Buildings Adjacent to Transportation Projects

Focus Area

Historic Preservation/Cultural Resources


Community & Cultural Concerns




Under $99,000


1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

In July 2003, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Bureau of Environment prepared a synthesis report on Construction Vibration and Historic Buildings. The URL for accessing this report is:
The report notes:
When highway construction activities produce perceptible vibrations, people entrusted with the care and protection of nearby historic structures occasionally become alarmed – and may take steps to halt the projects. They fear the vibrations may cause damage to the historic buildings, although little evidence exists to support this concern.
The Wisconsin DOT report provides a brief background on vibration impacts research, in addition to a sample of state DOT approaches. The report concludes that
…little evidence exists that construction vibrations pose a significant risk of damage to historic buildings, but transportation professionals need to convince people of that fact or remain vulnerable to their claims, no matter how specious. Information presented in simple terms that a layperson can understand is part of the education process, along with documentation of a vulnerable building’s condition – before, during, and after construction.
Since the preparation of the Wisconsin DOT report, there have been an additional studies and guidance on transportation construction and vibration impacts, such as California DOT’s 2004 guidance:
This latter guidance discusses vibration impacts on a number of potential receivers, including historic buildings.  There have also been various project-specific studies and reports across the country by state DOTs and also transit agencies (see http://www.panynj.gov/wtcprogress/pdf/wtc_cpp.pdf as an example), but these documents have not been catalogued nor are they readily accessible to practitioners.
What is needed is a comprehensive compilation of best practices that address vibration impacts (actual or perceived) on historic buildings adjacent to roadway construction projects. A compilation of best practices that help historic preservation resource agencies and organizations, and the general public, to understand the science behind vibration impact studies, as called for by the 2003 Wisconsin DOT report, would also be a great benefit to state DOTs.
A synthesis of these best practices will provide transportation agencies with necessary background and tools for evaluating whether historic buildings are vulnerable to vibration damage. By gathering and reviewing this information, the wider community of transportation officials, cultural resource specialists and historic preservation advocates will have a much more thorough basis for discerning legitimate from spurious concerns. Dealing with vibration issues in a factual manner will help eliminate potentially unnecessary mitigation measures, streamline the Section 106 process, and help protect transportation agencies against damage claims. 
The goal of this research project is to compile best practices on the analysis and mitigation of vibration impacts to historic buildings resulting from roadway projects. In addition, this compilation will include best practices that help the general public and historic preservation stakeholders understand the science behind these analyses in terms of whether or not vibration impacts can adversely impact historic buildings.
This research project will have three (3) tasks:
Task 1:
Conduct a literature search of transportation-related vibration impact studies. These studies should include both roadway and relevant transit projects.
Task 2:
Expanding upon the Wisconsin DOT 2003 study, survey state DOTs and state Federal Highway Administration division offices to collect and compile best practices on the analysis of vibration impacts on historic buildings. Best practices on educating stakeholders and the general public about the results of these analyses will also be collected.  Relevant best practices from transit agencies should also be examined. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s liaison to federal transit agencies will be an important source for identifying relevant transit best practices.
Task 3:
Present the best practices in a report. These best practices (based on the literature search and survey) should include selected case studies that a) demonstrate how vibration analyses are performed and b) describe the empirical outcomes of these analyses. In addition, develop and include in the report a one or two-page fact sheet that can be used for a non-technical audience describing the elements of a vibration analysis (e.g., measurements, impact thresholds, etc.). The report should also provide suggestions for the dissemination of the report’s findings to FHWA state division offices, state DOTs, local transportation planning organizations, SHPOs, and other historic preservation stakeholders.

Urgency and Payoff

Benefits to State DOTs
The development of a best practices report and fact sheets will help transportation agencies to more effectively address issues associated vibration impacts and historic properties. Agency responses to concerns raised by stakeholders and the public will be based on scientific facts and analyses, countering unsubstantiated claims raised by stakeholders and the public. In addition, the fact sheets will provide information on these impacts in a format that stakeholders and the public can easily understand. The best practices report will also allow agencies to develop more realistic and focused scopes of work and budgets for property inspections and vibration monitoring during project development, should such actions be necessary.

Suggested By

Antony F. Opperman, Virginia Department of Transportation and TRB ADC50, Telephone: 804-371-6749 Gail D'Avino, SCOE Community and Cultural Concerns Subcommittee

[email protected]