Loudoun’s Transportation and Capital Infrastructure staff members are going to be getting more aggressive with eminent domain in roadway projects in an effort to get costs down and projects done sooner.
The department’s new procedure means it will start acquiring rights-of-way earlier during the design process and be prepared to move ahead with eminent domain when negotiations stall.
“It is vital for a roadway project that we have that in the toolbox,” said DCTI Deputy Director Khattab Shammout. “We’re going to do the best we can to acquire property through voluntary means, but in order to manage a project and to manage the right-of-way phase, we need to define that phase.”
Shammout said the county staff will now begin considering taking the land through eminent domain if voluntary negotiations are not moving forward. The staff will come to the Board of Supervisors to authorize advertising and moving forward in the Circuit Court with condemnation procedures, including the quick take option that allows the government to take ownership of the land or easement and then have the court settle on the acquisition price later.
The Virginia Department of Transportation uses a similar process in its own road projects. County staff members estimate the revised procedure could save the county six to 12 months on road projects.
Finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said the new policy is in part to stop property owners along planned routes from manipulating the right-of-way acquisition process to overcharge the county.
“Property owners don’t believe that the county has the wherewithal to actually proceed with the quick take and take property, and they try to run the clock out on us,” Letourneau said. He said property owners have stalled negotiations or been unresponsive as a way to get more money out of the county: “Time is their friend, and they know it’s our enemy, because the longer these things take, the more costs go up, and eventually we end up overpaying if we want to resolve these, and that’s what we’ve had to do a few times, and I am sick and tired of it.”
Shammout said the county’s customary process for building roads is based on the model DTCI used for building other capital facilities, such as community centers.
“For a facility or for a land development, right-of-way is usually available, purchased, donated, it’s there, and we are designing to fit that parcel” Shammout said. “However, for transportation projects, usually that’s not a luxury we have.”
“The land owner is still compensated, it’s set by a third party. We present our case, they present theirs, but in the meantime we’re allowed to proceed and the time has come for us to do that,” Letourneau said. “We simply can’t afford to sit around and get played around with for months and months on these critical projects, because it’s costing the taxpayers money.”