Updated as of January 2020.
As the John Locke Foundation explained in a 2015 Spotlight report, 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.
In a case known as Kirby v. NCDOT, a group of Forsyth County landowners challenged the Map Act. In 2015, the John Locke Foundation filed a friend-of-the-court brief in their support, and, in 2016, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in the landowners’ 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 North Carolina 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.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Kirby decision, transportation planning in North Carolina now appears to be moving in the right direction. NCDOT has begun to pay compensation to Map Act victims, and it has completed a report that includes a sensible Map Act replacement proposal. For its part, the General Assembly has repealed the Map Act and taken NCDOT’s report under advisement.
- In response to the decision in Kirby v. NCDOT, the General Assembly rescinded all existing corridor maps, placed a moratorium on the filing of new maps, instructed NCDOT to study alternatives to the Map Act, and required the agency to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.”
- In 2019, the North Carolina General Assembly repealed the Map Act, clearing the way for a new approach to transportation planning.
- NCDOT should continue compensating all Map Act victims without delay.
- The General Assembly should begin to seriously consider what, if anything, should replace the Map Act. Option C of NCDOT’s 2018 report would be a good starting point. Option C states, “[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.”