The House voted unanimously Thursday to get rid of the state Map Act, which enables the state Department of Transportation to cut its right-of-way costs by preventing landowners from developing property it expects to buy for future highway projects.
DOT uses the Map Act to draw corridor maps that sometimes handcuff property owners for decades, while their neighbors are free to develop their land and make it more valuable.
The legislature’s fiscal research staff reported Thursday to the Finance Committee that the repeal bill won’t affect DOT project costs in the next five years, but it will drive costs higher in the future.
The fiscal analysis indicated that DOT stands to realize substantial savings when it starts buying land – as it expects to do between 2016 and 2020 – for a planned extension of the 540 Outer Loop in southern Wake County.
Southern Wake was largely undeveloped in 1996 when DOT filed a corridor map for the 540 leg between Holly Springs and Garner. Since then, new residential and commercial development has flourished along both sides of the protected corridor. The legislature’s fiscal research staff estimates DOT’s right-of-way cost there, in the still-undeveloped project corridor, at $5 million per mile.
But a strip in Forsyth County was already developed when a similar map was filed in the late 1990s for the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway, and fiscal researchers say DOT will spend $12.5 million a mile when it buys that land.
A group of Forsyth landowners recently won a N.C. Court of Appeals ruling that DOT effectively took their property nearly two decades ago without paying for it.
Unless DOT wins a reversal in the N.C. Supreme Court, it will have to pay damages to the Forsyth plaintiffs. The Forsyth case could eventually benefit landowners in other counties, including Wake, that have filed similar lawsuits over the Map Act.
Jim and Carol Deans had hoped to subdivide their 21 acres on Bells Lake Road near Apex, but DOT blocked their plans when it filed the corridor map for 540 in 1996. They are among a group of Wake landowners who have sued to force DOT to buy their land for a fair price.
They were encouraged by the 114-0 House vote to repeal the Map Act.
“Apparently the legislators in the House have at least listened to the voice of the people and are trying to right a wrong that has existed for 20 years now,” said Jim Deans, 79.
DOT has estimated that the property covered by Map Act corridor maps statewide could cost the state as much as $600 million. Citing the pending lawsuits, a DOT spokesman declined to comment on the House vote.
Under the Senate proposal to modify the Map Act:
▪ DOT could not file a corridor map to freeze development until after it filed a final environmental impact statement that identified the chosen route for a new road. In southern Wake County, DOT still has not picked a 540 route or completed an environmental study.
▪ DOT would have to buy the land and start construction within 10 years after filing a corridor map. Under the current law, DOT can use a corridor map to block development indefinitely.
▪ DOT would have two years, instead of three under the current law, to either approve a development proposal for land controlled by a corridor map or purchase the land from its owner.