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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

From The Ground Up

Real Property and Transportation Needs

Transportation and Real Estate

Transportation systems cannot be built and operated without the acquisition and management of real estate. Acquiring real estate often requires the relocation of individuals, families, businesses, and others. Because these activities all relate to the real property on which the highway will be constructed, that is, the “right-of-way,” they are called right-of-way activities.

Although Federal-aid highway projects are designed to benefit the community at large, they may disproportionately impact those whose real property must be acquired or whose homes and businesses must be displaced. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Right-of-Way Program is designed to respond to these impacts in a manner which minimizes their disruptiveness.

The Mission of the FHWA

We provide proactive leadership, expertise, resources and information to continually improve the quality of our Nation’s Highway System and its intermodal connections. We undertake this mission in cooperation with all our partners to enhance the country’s economic vitality, quality of life and the environment.


The FHWA’s relationship with the State departments of transportation and local governments is a partnership. The partners share rights, responsibilities, and obligations, with decisions made in close cooperation with each other. This is particularly true for right-of-way matters because land acquisition policies and practices are governed by the eminent domain laws of the individual States.

The FHWA does not acquire right-of-way for Federal-aid highway projects. Instead, the FHWA makes Federal-aid funds available to the State transportation departments, mainly by statutory formula. State transportation officials work with local governments to determine which projects are funded. The States are responsible for acquisition of right-of-way, although local governments acquire the right-of-way in some cases. Approximately $1.5 billion is spent annually on acquisition and relocation activities for Federal-aid highway projects. The FHWA works with its partners during the acquisition process and, through them, assists other customers, such as nonprofit organizations, property owners and businesses, and individuals affected by transportation projects.

The FHWA Right-of-Way Program

The FHWA Right-of-Way Program is derived from three fundamental sources: (1) the 5th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, which declare that “…no person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation;” (2) the Uniform Relocation and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 (Uniform Act), as amended, which provides benefits and protections to those directly impacted by federally-assisted projects; and (3) Title 23 of the United States Code, the law pertaining to the Federal-aid highway program.

The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, as Amended

The Uniform Act, provides important protections and benefits for people affected by Federal and federally-assisted projects. This law was enacted by Congress to ensure that people whose real property is acquired, or who move as a result of projects receiving Federal funds, will be treated fairly and equitably and will receive assistance in moving from the property they occupy.

Lead Agency

The Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987, designated the U. S. Department of Transportation as the Federal lead agency for the Uniform Act. Duties include the development, issuance, and maintenance of the government-wide regulation, providing assistance to other Federal agencies, and reporting to Congress. This responsibility has been delegated to the FHWA and is carried out by the Office of Real Estate Services.

The Office of Real Estate Services

The Office of Real Estate Services (HEPR) develops and implements policies carrying out Constitutional guarantees for just compensation and equitable treatment of the American public, as provided by the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 (UA), as amended.

In support of FHWA’s Strategic Plan and Mission, HEPR develops, implements, and evaluates policies for acquisition, management, and disposal of real estate in connection with programs developed by FHWA, including the Highway Beautification Act (HBA).

Functions of the Office of Real Estate Services

The Office of Real Estate Services is an important element of the FHWA’s systems approach to the Federal-aid highway program. Some Office of Real Estate Services activities are:

Project Development
The FHWA and the Office of Real Estate Services encourage all of our partners working on right-of-way matters to become involved early in project development, alignment selection, and the coordination of projects selected for construction. In the developmental stages of a project, issues often involve not only the people who own and occupy the property needed for the project, but adjoining property owners and occupants, surrounding neighborhoods, and the community as a whole.

Appraisal and Valuation
The Uniform Act requires that appraisal standards apply to federally-assisted projects to ensure that all property owners are treated fairly and equitably in the valuation of their real property. Appraisals must be well supported, documented, and reviewed to conform to the Uniform Act’s requirements. Partial acquisitions typically required for highway projects are complex, and may be further complicated by factors such as environmental impairment, particularly in urban settings.

Acquisition of Real Property
In acquiring property for a project, the Uniform Act requires agencies to negotiate with property owners in a prompt and amicable manner so that litigation may be avoided. Negotiations are based on the agency’s estimate of just compensation, which is based on an appraisal of fair market value.

The Uniform Act also provides certain protections, including the requirement that owners must be given a reasonable amount of time to consider written offers, to ask questions, and to present additional information for consideration, and the right to a 90 day notice before the property must be vacated.

The acquisition program also contains other elements, including:

Advance Acquisition, which permits the purchase of property based on hardship to the owner, or to preserve alternatives subject to impending development, in advance of the normal acquisition process.

The acquisition of property to provide rest areas, preserve scenic vistas, and create or protect wetlands in order to harmonize highways with the surrounding environment.

Relocation Assistance and Payments
If the property to be acquired for a project is developed, the Uniform Act provides a number of measures to minimize the hardships of relocation. For example, no one may be displaced from his or her residence unless a comparable replacement residence has been offered; nor may a person be required to move in less than 90 days after an offer to purchase has been made. Homeowners and tenants may receive payments for moving expenses and, if necessary, the increased cost of replacement housing. Businesses are eligible for moving expenses and certain costs to reestablish their business. In addition, displaced persons are offered advisory services, that is, help in successfully relocating to a replacement site, including the determination of relocation needs, information concerning replacement properties, and timely written notifications of payment eligibility.

Property Management
Real property acquisitions for highway projects require long-term management strategies to protect, maintain, and manage the acquired corridor until it is needed for its intended highway use.

Thus it is the FHWA’s policy to promote long-term real estate management programs that seek opportunities for joint use, promote harmonious joint development of property adjacent to the facility, timely and cost-effective disposal of unneeded properties, and aggressive access management programs to ensure efficient system performance.

The Future

The FHWA, acting through the Office of Real Estate Services, will continue to fulfill its mission as lead agency for the Uniform Act and to promote the fair and equitable treatment of property owners and people displaced by the nation’s need for safe, efficient, and environmentally sound transportation systems.

Updated: 1/19/2017
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