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Whenever a new highway is built, and often when an existing one is widened or otherwise modified, it is necessary to acquire land for the intended construction. For various reasons, there usually is an interim period between the acquisition of the land and construction. Acquired land and any accompanying improvements are valuable resources which must be protected and often can be productive during this interim. Even after construction is completed, attention must be paid to acquired land to ensure the safe and effective functioning of the highway facility and to protect the public and its investment.
The administration of acquired land and improvements is called property management. It includes activities such as maintenance and protection of the right-of-way, rental or leasing of acquired property, disposal of property no longer needed for the highway, and others discussed later in this chapter. Many of these activities provide opportunities for a State or local government to generate revenue which may be used for highway-related activities.
As a project proceeds from the planning stage through the acquisition of property, the relocation of right-of-way occupants, the construction of the facility, and then to the operation of the completed highway; property management is an ongoing concern. For example, well before negotiations to acquire real property have begun, the acquiring agency should consider and determine whether improvements can be moved so that, if appropriate, it may offer an owner the opportunity to retain and remove them. At the other end of the spectrum, even after construction of the highway is completed, the agency still will have property management responsibilities. Examples include ensuring the safety of the highway by preventing encroachments, protecting access control, disposing of excess land, and renting property excess to current project needs.
In administering acquired land and improvements, you should be guided by the twin goals of serving the public interest and maximizing public benefit. Keeping these goals in mind is helpful when decisions must be made concerning situations in which the rules are not clear-cut or the circumstances are ambiguous.
For discussion purposes, we have divided property management activities into those which occur before the project is closed out (financially) and those which occur thereafter.
As in any activity, proper administration is a minimum requirement. The administration of acquired property includes a number of procedural activities and the records associated with them. In a very real sense, appropriate records are the backbone of the process.
An essential component of the record-keeping process is the property inventory. It is preferable that the property inventory include a record of all real property and improvements acquired for the project. The agency should prepare a pre-acquisition inventory covering every parcel to be acquired, including all land, structures, machinery, equipment, and fixtures. In order to document what is present, the inventory should be updated when physical possession of the real property occurs. Property management requires maintaining accounting records of the expenses and receipts relating to the use (by lease or rental agreement), demolition, removal or disposal (by sale) of acquired real property and related improvements.
Note: Your SDOT should be contacted for information regarding treatment of revenue from property management activities.
Another important area involves the maintenance and security of acquired property. As noted above, acquired property is a valuable resource requiring protection from vandalism, encroachment, or other misuse. Even more importantly, the agency must take measures to insure public safety between acquisition and the completion of the highway. Therefore, it is necessary for the agency to inspect the property at appropriate intervals. Additional areas of concern include procedures for hiring contractors (including for the management of real property - see the section on FHWA contracting requirements in Chapter IV, Administrative Matters), the preservation and/or disposal of improvements, and rodent control.
If real property is not needed immediately for construction, it may be advantageous for the agency to rent or lease it. This provides revenue to the project and, often, an extra measure of security. Interim leasing is permissible only when the construction schedule permits. Typically, it involves renting property back to previous owners/occupants, which may have the added benefit of assisting with the timing of relocation and/or other project activities. Such properties generally are rented for a short term and the rent charged should be appropriate for short-term occupancy. The Federal share of net income from such leases shall be credited to an account and used for Title 23 eligible projects.
Leases should include the following conditions in order to protect the project's/agency's interests in the property:
If structures, utilities, equipment, or other impediments to construction are present on the property to be acquired, they must be cleared before construction may begin. Clearance may be accomplished in a variety of different ways - as part of the construction contract for building the highway, or through a separate demolition/ removal contract, owner retention and removal, negotiated sale, auction, or another method. An important aspect of clearing the property is the relocation of occupants which is discussed in greater detail in Chapter VII, Relocation. As a rule, occupants must be relocated before bids for construction of the highway facility may be advertised.
Depending on the agency that will administer the construction contract and whether Federal funding is utilized there are requirements for the agency acquiring the right-of-way to prepare right-of-way and utility certifications prior to advertising for construction.
Within a short time following the completion of the highway's construction, the project will be financially closed out. When the highway facility is open to traffic, it enters its operational phase.
Even after the project has been closed out financially, the need for property management continues in order to protect the traveling public and its investment in the highway. This includes functions which occurred during the pre-closeout phase (such as leasing) and some new activities, such as excess property disposal and protection of access control.
Once a highway facility is open to traffic, decisions about leasing property and preventing inappropriate uses of the right-of-way take on an added dimension. Each use of the right-of-way for other than highway purposes must be weighed against the maintenance of highway capacity and safety. Uses which were permissible before operations began may no longer be acceptable.
A number of functions typically occur after closeout. One of these is the disposal of excess property. After the highway has begun operations, it may become clear that some of the property acquired for the highway is not needed currently and will not be needed in the foreseeable future. The agency should maintain an inventory of such "excess properties." Excess property may be disposed of but FHWA policy puts some limitations on the disposal.
If the property is sold to a private party, the acquiring agency must charge a minimum of fair market value, although there can be exceptions for social, economic, or environmental purposes. The Federal share of the sale proceeds (see the section on Cost-Sharing/Credits in Chapter IV, Administrative Matters) may be retained but must be used for activities eligible under Title 23 U.S.C. Highways. However, if a disposal is made to a government entity for public purposes, the disposal may be made without charge.
One special type of disposal involves the disposal of access control, i.e., opening access to the highway facility at a point or points where it has been prohibited. This is a matter with very serious potential implications for the safety and capacity of the highway.
Note: If your agency wishes to dispose of access control, you must seek prior approval from your SDOT.
Another post-closeout function is the leasing of real property. As in the pre-closeout phase, leasing is a potential source of revenue. The decision to permit leasing is dependent on the agency's determination that it will not interfere with the safety of the traveling public or adversely affect the highway's capacity. You must charge fair market value for leases, but, once again, there can be exceptions for social, economic, or environmental purposes. As with the disposal of excess property, the income from leasing after closeout may be used by your agency for activities eligible under the federal-aid highway program. Once again, prior FHWA approval is required for the leasing of right-of-way on interstate highways.