The URA provides uniform, fair and equitable treatment for persons whose real property is acquired or who are displaced as a result of Federal or Federally-assisted programs or projects. The URA affects 18 Federal agencies and applies to all projects receiving Federal financial assistance involving the acquisition, demolition, or rehabilitation of real property, unless specifically exempted.
When the URA was initially enacted in 1970, each Federal agency that administered programs requiring acquisition of real property implemented their own regulations. Inevitably, this led to significant differences in Agencies’ implementing regulations. In February 1985, a Presidential Memorandum, named the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) as the Agency with lead responsibility for the URA. Within the U.S. DOT, responsibility for serving as the lead agency was delegated to the FHWA and is carried out by the Office of Real Estate Services. As the Federal lead agency for the URA, FHWA is responsible for developing, issuing, and maintaining the government-wide regulation, providing assistance to other Federal agencies, and reporting to Congress.
In 1987, Congress passed The Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Act of 1987, which made several statutory changes to the URA, including confirming the U.S. DOT as the lead Federal agency. In 1989, FHWA issued the Final Unified Rule (49 Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) Part 24). Subsequently, all other Federal Agencies rescinded their own rules and provided a cross reference to 49 CFR Part 24. Since 1989, the regulations have been amended several times, with the most recent update occurring in 2005. The Final Rule revised the existing regulations to specify a narrower application of the “voluntary acquisition” concept to only federally assisted projects (prior to the 2005 amendment voluntary acquisitions also applied to direct Federal acquisitions). The Final Rule also added significant implementation guidance to Appendix A of 49 CFR Part 24. This guidance provides helpful insight to agencies on issues related to implementing voluntary acquisitions.
For programs and projects receiving Federal financial assistance, the URA regulatory requirements differ significantly for acquisitions of a voluntary nature and for acquisitions under threat or use of eminent domain (i.e. involuntary acquisitions). While there are protections for property owners and tenants in both circumstances, only involuntary acquisitions trigger the full acquisition requirements of the URA found in 49 CFR 24, Subpart B.
As the lead Federal agency for the URA, FHWA is responsible for providing assistance to other Federal agencies in implementing the URA. As such, FHWA initiated this research effort to 1) identify challenges that agencies face in implementing the involuntary acquisition requirements of the URA, and 2) clarify the appropriate application of the URA’s voluntary acquisition requirements.
FHWA convened a multi-agency working group to inform the research effort. The working group consisted of representatives from the following agencies:
The research effort proceeded in two parts. First, the study team reviewed agency policy and guidance and relevant literature to assess institutional issues and processes related to voluntary acquisition requirements (see Appendix A). The study team found that, apart from agency guidance, the availability of literature on the topic is quite limited. Second, the study team conducted a series of interviews with representatives from Federal, state and local agencies in the working group on the implementation of voluntary acquisitions. The study team synthesized the information collected through the literature review and stakeholder interviews to identify the challenges and recommendations presented in this report.