June 24, 2020The Eminent Domain Process in Texas

A look inside Kittelson LLC and our approach

Continued population growth with significant residential and commercial development in southwest Austin has created major congestion at the intersection of two regional highways.  Kittelson LLC’s Mike McInturff was retained by the State of Texas to assess access and circulation conditions adjacent to a proposed parcel to be acquired for implementation of proposed improvements to one of the highways, RM 2222.  Construction affecting the parcel was to consist of a new four lane undivided roadway connecting two highways with signalized intersections at each highway. As part of his work on the case, Mike conducted a traffic signal warrant study, arterial analyses, intersection capacity and level of service and site access design and analysis. The case was settled prior to the beginning of a trial to determine a final value of the right-of-way acquired by the State of Texas.

What Is Eminent Domain?

Eminent domain is the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation. Under state and federal law, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) can acquire only the right of way (ROW) needed for a transportation project. As a transportation project is being developed, the department’s systematic approach extends to informing the public – and potentially affected property owners – about the proposed project. TxDOT first attempts to acquire property through voluntary negotiations. If no agreement is reached, the department begins the eminent domain process, in which the state can purchase private property if an owner refuses to sell.

Eminent domain is also used in cases to clear ownership and title issues. The process usually begins after multiple public meetings, presentation of alternative routes and ultimately, environmental clearance for a set project route. Surveys are then ordered; market value appraisals are obtained and offers are made to property owners. TxDOT is authorized to acquire real property interests only if “the acquisition is necessary or convenient” to a state highway purpose. Acquisition by eminent domain cannot happen overnight. A final offer is made to a property owner. If it is not accepted, TxDOT requests the Texas Transportation Commission for the authority to begin eminent domain proceedings. Texas law requires the Commission pass a minute order at a formal Commission meeting that specifically requests the Attorney General’s office to start condemnation. Notification of a condemnation hearing must also be personally delivered to a property owner or the property owner’s agent at least 20 days before the hearing. The hearing either results in a Special Commissioners award acceptable to all parties or, if any party files objections to the award, the process becomes a judicial proceeding, including possible jury trial.

Kittelson LLC’s Eminent Domain Work

Mike McInturff has conducted site access and circulation studies as an expert witness for more than 50 parcels included in Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) highway improvement projects throughout the state. He provides expert witness services for the Texas Attorney General’s office (AG) and TxDOT in the Austin, Brownwood, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Lufkin, Pharr, San Antonio, and Yoakum Districts. This work included provision of services in various phases of the eminent domain process in Texas:

  1. After initial property appraisals are completed and an offer is made to the property owner
  2. Before and during Special Commissioners hearing
  3. Following completion of Special Commissioners hearing and mediation
  4. Before roadway construction has begun
  5. After roadway construction has been completed

In Texas, the eminent domain process is led by the AG’s office with input from TxDOT District personnel for provision of construction plans and other appropriate files as needed. The AG undertakes this process with a team of professionals consisting of one or two appraisers, a land planner and traffic engineer to evaluate ingress and egress for the property from which right-of-way is to be acquired.

Mike’s scope of work as a traffic engineering expert on such engagements usually consists of evaluation of ingress and egress for the property before and after the proposed roadway construction.  He collaborates with the land planner who determines highest and best use of the property before and after the roadway construction. Both the land planner and Mike prepare reports which are provided to the appraiser(s) for use in preparation of their appraisals for submission to the AG’s office. Preparing this report can include:

  1. Field review of traffic operations within and adjacent to the site
  2. Intersection/driveway capacity and level of service analysis
  3. Traffic operational evaluation of existing and proposed access points using AutoTURN software
  4. Parking and circulation analysis, design, and recommendations
  5. Access design recommendations
  6. Testimony at Special Commissioner hearing, deposition, and trial

As qualified experts in the areas of highway design, traffic engineering and site access design and circulation, Kittelson LLC transportation engineers assist attorneys in private practice and government attorneys for eminent domain, administrative permit approvals and other legal/legislative matters. KLLC transportation engineers provide expert witness services for State Attorney General’s offices and Departments of Transportation as well as municipalities, counties/parishes, school districts and private property owners. These services include work on hundreds of projects of the following types:  property condemnation for highway, public school, and transit facility improvements, landfills, solid waste transfer facilities, sand mining operations, and construction and maintenance traffic control. Reach out to us to talk further about these services and how our team can meet your needs!