Transportation planning in North Carolina took a wrong turn in 1987 when the General Assembly approved a controversial piece of legislation known as the Map Act. The Map Act gave the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) the power to “control the cost of acquiring rights-of-way for the State’s highway system” by prohibiting long-term residential and commercial development on land within officially designated “transportation corridors.” NCDOT used that power to suppress the value of large tracts of land for years, even decades, without initiating condemnation proceedings typically required to build new roads and without compensating the owners.
A group of Forsyth County landowners challenged the Map Act in Kirby v. NCDOT, and in June 2016, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled in their favor. The court held, “By recording the corridor maps … which restricted plaintiffs’ rights to improve, develop, and subdivide their property for an indefinite period, NCDOT effectuated a taking of fundamental property rights.”
Two implications of the court’s decision were clear. First, NCDOT would have to compensate the plaintiffs and all other Map Act victims for their losses. Second, NCDOT and the N.C. General Assembly would have to work together to develop a new approach to transportation planning that delivers the roads and other transportation infrastructure North Carolina needs while promoting economic well-being and respecting our constitutional rights.
Although neither has happened, transportation planning in North Carolina appears to be moving in the right direction. NCDOT was ordered to expedite the compensation process and has submitted an excellent Map Act replacement proposal to the General Assembly.
- Almost two years after the N.C. Supreme Court affirmed the Kirby plaintiffs’ right to be compensated for their losses, most Map Act victims are still waiting for compensation from NCDOT.
- Recently, a Superior Court judge ordered NCDOT to appraise each property and deposit funds equal to a good-faith estimate of just compensation (including interest from the date of taking) in a compensation fund.
- In response to the Kirby decision, the General Assembly rescinded all existing corridor maps, placed a moratorium on the filing of new maps, instructed NCDOT to study alternatives to the Map Act, and required the agency to submit a final report.
- After a series of delays, NCDOT submitted its final report in February 2018. The report provides brief descriptions of the five options NCDOT considered. Option C is the option that NCDOT rightly contends “achieves an equitable balance of interests without infringing on property owners’ rights.”
- Option C of the 2018 NCDOT report recommends, “[R]eplace the current Map Act statute with a new law that provides for filing maps with no restrictions on the property except a requirement that the Department be notified of any zoning, subdivision, or building permit requests within the protected corridor. This notification would then provide an opportunity for the Department to attempt to purchase the land if it is determined that the proposed development could have a significant negative impact on the development of the future transportation corridor.”
- NCDOT should comply with the N.C. Superior Court order and fully compensate all Map Act victims without further delay.
- The General Assembly should follow NCDOT’s suggestion and replace the current Map Act statute with a new law. Preferably, the new law would conform to Option C of the 2018 NCDOT report.