Superstreets takings: Why they are built and what your rights are

We get it, your home is your investment. And the type of road that runs in front of or alongside your property can have a significant impact on its value. Not many homeowners want to live beside a roaring roadway!

“Superstreets” are the latest threat to homeowners who just want peace and quiet. As land condemnation attorneys in NC, we often represent property owners who live along roads that are being widened or changed, and these changes often affect their homes or businesses. This article breaks down the nuances of superstreets and how an attorney can help you if your property is affected by the construction of one.

What is a superstreet?

Superstreets are a type of intersection between a major road and a minor road that provide an alternative route to drivers on the minor road who wish to proceed straight across the major road or turn left onto it. Below, we’ll explain what a superstreet is in more detail, and why NCDOT is building so many in NC.

A closer look: Definition of a superstreet

When two roads cross each other, you get an interchange. In a “typical” red light/green light intersection, you can turn right, left, or go straight from any direction.

The superstreet concept is an alternative to this type of intersection.

In a superstreet intersection scenario, roads joining the superstreet can only turn right onto it. To turn left and travel in the other direction, drivers must first turn right and then make a U-turn. Superstreets are also called restricted crossing U-turns (RCUT), J-turns, and reduced conflict intersections (RCI).

Illustration of conventional intersection vs superstreet for the NC Eminent Domain website article on Superstreet Takings: Your Rights.

Are superstreets safe?

While the superstreet design looks complicated, planners often prefer it because it simplifies the number of choices for drivers – minimizing the conflict points at an intersection.

A typical intersection may have as many as 32 potential conflict points, while a superstreet only has 14.

Since intersections have long been a trouble spot for motorists and are often the scene of some of the most devastating accidents, NCDOT engineers hope that by reducing the number of conflict points, they might reduce the number of accidents.

It seems they are right.

How much safer are superstreets? Here’s an example.

In 1997, the NCDOT converted the NC 87 bypass to North Carolina’s first superstreet. In the three years prior to opening it, the bypass was the scene of 24 crashes, resulting in 21 injury cases.

For the three-year span after the bypass was converted, there was a remarkable drop to only two crashes and zero injury cases, according to the NCDOT.

Analyzing data over a seven-year period, the NCDOT estimated that superstreets reduce collisions by 46%.

Superstreets are also considered safer for pedestrians because traffic patterns are easier to predict since drivers have fewer options (conflict points).

Why does the NCDOT think a superstreet is a super street?

In addition to the improved safety (reduced likelihood of crashes and threats to crossing pedestrians), superstreets are appealing to NCDOT for three other reasons:

  • More efficient – Since superstreets have fewer conflict points, there are fewer stoplights, and the stoplights that are in place do not have to accommodate as many options. This reduces travel time and allows the road to accommodate more traffic.
  • Economically beneficial– Since superstreets allow for equal access to both sides of the road, development can more easily occur on either side. Also, when used as a substitute for an interchange, superstreets are typically less expensive, since they require less acreage (see picture below).
  • Environmentally friendly– In addition to affecting less land than a conventional interchange, vehicles spend less time idling at stoplights with superstreets, leading to fewer emissions and pollutants released into the environment.

conventional interchange

A non-compensable inconvenience: Another reason the NCDOT prefers superstreets

Imagine you run a business that loses all of the traffic from one direction because a median was installed and turning across it is forbidden. Sounds like much more than an inconvenience, right? Unfortunately, in North Carolina, eliminating the ability to turn left or installing a median that may prevent traffic from entering or flowing in some ways is typically NOT considered a taking.

Your business would likely be harmed but because the law generally does not recognize these modifications as a taking, you would likely not be compensated.

What do I do if my road is being turned into a superstreet?

While superstreets may have benefits, they can cause problems for homeowners who are in the way of the project. Building a new superstreet (or converting an existing street into one) can require right-of-way acquisition, which means the government may take the land needed for the project from private owners using a process called eminent domain.

If your property is in danger of being taken, we strongly recommend that you get a free case evaluation with an experienced eminent domain attorney as soon as possible. In our experience, the government may undervalue your property and offer you less than what you may deserve. And, without guidance, it’s easy to miss important deadlines or accidentally take steps that can’t be reversed.

How can the NC Eminent Domain Law Firm help me?

If your property is affected by a superstreet project, our firm can help you navigate the eminent domain process and fight for the compensation you deserve by:

  • Advising you of your rights as a property owner
  • Helping you understand the rationale and process for the taking
  • Interpreting complex eminent domain laws
  • Identifying the possible elements to include in compensation calculations
  • Fronting the costs of surveyors, engineers, or appraisers for property evaluation, if needed

At the NC Eminent Domain Law Firm, we have four eminent domain attorneys who have worked for the NCDOT, and they may be able to use that inside experience and knowledge to your benefit. Our attorneys have more than 80 years of combined experience trying many different kinds of cases throughout North Carolina.

We’re happy to review your case to see if you’re being treated fairly. If we take your case, we do not charge you an hourly fee.  Instead, we collect a contingency fee at the end of the case, which is a percentage of the total amount that we may secure for you above the amount the NCDOT offered you. If we do not recover additional compensation over what the government offered you, there is no attorney’s fee.

Call us today at 1-877-393-4990 or contact us online for a free case evaluation.

US 421 Superstreet Conversion

US 74 Superstreet Conversion

US 17 Superstreet (Washington Acres Rd. to Sloop Point Loop Rd.)

US 258 Superstreet (Pony Farm Rd. to Burgaw Hwy)

An easy-to-understand breakdown of utility easements

When the government is taking your land, there are several different classifications for what they are taking. In the law, we call these “interests in real property.” When you purchased your property, you most likely bought it in “fee simple.” What this means is that you own the property in its entirety. You can grant your mother a life estate, divide the land, sell it, or grant your neighbor an easement.

Easements are complicated bits of law. This blog is the first part in our three-part series on easements. Here, we will cover permanent utility easements.

An overview of easements

When the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) or another government entity takes your property for a project, they may take a less than a full ownership interest, such as an easement. The North Carolina courts have defined an easement as “a non-possessory right to make limited use of land owned by another without taking a part thereof.”

What this means is you still own the underlying land and can generally do what you want with the property as long as it does not interfere with the easement holder’s use and enjoyment of the easement. On the flip side, the easement holder must use the easement in a manner consistent with the stated purpose of the easement.

Some examples of non-utility easements include granting a driveway easement over your land so your neighbor can have access to his or her property or granting an easement so your friend can come fish on your pond.

Permanent utility easements

When the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) or another government entity takes your property for a project, they may take right-of-way, which is essentially the government taking permanent, full ownership of the property. Or they may take a less than full interest, such as a Permanent Utility Easement (PUE). A PUE allows the government (and some other entities) to run utility lines across your property.

Utility easement examples

Utility easements are often taken when there is a road widening project and a power lines easement is needed to account for existing power lines being pushed onto your property. Some other examples include gas, cable, and telephone pole easements.

Another common example of a PUE is when a city or county is installing sewer or water lines. These can be particularly damaging to a property as they are often engineered without regard to clear spaces, meaning the plans can call for the destruction of fences, trees, and sheds. Sewer lines can be exceptionally frustrating, as they often are not used for the benefit of the property on which they are intruding and, while they are underground, can require above-ground manholes for maintenance and repair access.

Learn More: Pipeline Easements and Takings

What are North Carolina’s utility easement laws?

The rules governing a utility easement in North Carolina are typically spelled out in a PUE deed. The NCDOT, municipalities, and utility companies may have different wording in their Permanent Utility Easement deed language, but they are usually going to be similar.

Unfortunately, you shouldn’t expect the deed to be in plain English. Below is an example of typical PUE language:

Said Permanent Utility easement in perpetuity is for the installation and maintenance of utilities, and for all purposes for which the [NCDOT] is authorized by law to subject same. The Department and its agents or assigns shall have the right to construct and maintain in a proper manner in, upon and through said premises a utility line or lines with all necessary pipes, poles and appurtenances, together with the right at all times to enter said premises for the purpose of inspecting said utility lines and making all necessary repairs and alterations…

You get the idea. If you just read that and you’re thinking to yourself “what on earth does any of that mean?” you’re not alone. You can easily see how if you simply sign the document without having an attorney review and explain the language, you may be signing away rights that could entitle you to compensation.

How do I find utility easements on my property?

A title search of your property will generally turn up any easements on the land. Even if you didn’t agree to an easement, a previous owner might have agreed to one. Easements typically transfer from one owner to the next.

If you have property with utilities like cable and internet, you can generally assume there’s an easement impacting your property. It’s the price of modern infrastructure. However, it’s important to note that a utility company may not abuse its access by exceeding the easement. Exceeding authorization and permission would be similar to any other trespass onto your private property. In addition, if the utility company negligently destroys unrelated property while exercising their easement, you may be entitled to compensation.

Don’t try to guess. The law is complex and even illogical at times. Have your case evaluated for free by an eminent domain attorney.

Can the utility company come on my property?

Yes. When utility lines are damaged or need alteration, utility companies have the right to enter your land in order to perform these services. If there’s a problem with gas, electric, or other utility lines that run through, over, or below your land, the utility company has a right to access and repair them. They may also have the right to set up utility poles or towers on your property.

Can a utility company dig in my yard without permission?

Utility easements include the right to maintain or work on the utility. Provided they’re working only in the easement area, a utility company does not need permission to work on your property – including digging in your yard.

Let’s say there’s an easement in your backyard for something like a natural gas line. If the gas company needs to work on that line, they don’t need to ask for permission, especially in an emergency.

How can I remove a utility easement on my property?

You probably can’t. Under North Carolina law, a PUE is not a complete taking, but it is generally a permanent taking. A typical PUE will last forever until abandoned by the utility company. When you go to sell your property, each subsequent purchaser will buy the property subject to the easement. We often run into easements that were granted to Carolina Power and Light Company back in the 1950s!

What are my utility easement rights?

Clients often ask, “How close can you build to a utility easement?” or “Can you build a fence on a public utility easement?” The answer depends on the specific details of your property and the easement.

You are, usually, entitled to some use and enjoyment of the easement area. This is a complicated and contentious point for many homeowners. I often get clients who tell me they don’t want to mow the yard anymore in that area or think the easement area will become a desolate wasteland. Usually, that isn’t the case.

Depending on the type of PUE and the language in the deed, you may be able to put a fence, a garden, small bushes, or other objects that don’t interfere with the easement. The caveat I would give to this is that if the easement holder needs to tear up the land for repairs, they are allowed to do so without providing additional compensation.

Can a property owner block an easement in North Carolina?

Blocking the government from taking an easement on your land is unlikely to be successful. However, you can negotiate the terms of the easement agreement to seek maximum compensation and try to ensure they’re not taking more than they need. Easements are often confusing and the language can be vague, but an experienced eminent domain attorney can help.

Once the easement is in effect, physically blocking the easement itself would be a violation of your easement agreement. The easement agreement will define the property owner’s duties and the limitations for using the land in question.

Since the easement will be an imposition, you should seek maximum compensation while negotiating the easement agreement. This will generally be your only opportunity for compensation from the easement, so consult an experienced eminent domain attorney before you agree to anything.

Who is responsible for maintaining an easement in NC?

If there is an easement on your land, you’re generally responsible for maintaining the area. Some easements aren’t terribly difficult to maintain – buried gas, power, data, or water lines are underground. You generally won’t be able to build in this area, but maintenance requirements may be minimal.

However, some easements, such as drainage easements, may require more work. These types of easements are about moving water. Allowing the easement area to become overgrown or clogged could be costly for the city, your property, or your neighbors.

If you have any questions about your responsibilities for an easement, consult the easement agreement.

Calculating the value of a utility easement

This may be the main reason you have visited our site, to find out: do utility companies pay for easements, and how much might your PUE be worth? In typical lawyer fashion, the answer is: it depends.

When the government is taking right-of-way, they are taking the full rights of the property and therefore the full value. In contrast, when the government is taking an easement such as a PUE, they are taking less than the full value, as the property owner still owns the underlying property – although the use and enjoyment, and therefore value, has been diminished.

I’ll tell you that I have seen some government appraisers give anywhere between 30% and 90% of the full land value as compensation for easement on property.

Below is an example easement calculator:

Example of utility easement calculation to assess the value of an easement: 1 acre for the NC Eminent Domain article on Superstreet Takings: Your Rights

Miscellaneous easement information

Setbacks – Counties and municipalities often have ordinances that regulate setback requirements for construction of improvements (buildings, fences, septic, etc.) within a certain distance of a property line. Most of the time, easements do not count against setback requirements. In other words, if the county requires a 10 foot setback for a new fence, that amount is usually calculated from the property line, not the easement line. Note: If that 10 foot setback ends within the PUE area, you may not be allowed to build the fence in the easement area, but instead, just outside of the PUE area.

Acreage Size – Another area of concern for property owners is how the PUE impacts their acreage size. Both commercial and residential property owners have a keen interest in a larger property size when they want to build on or sell their property. If there is a silver lining to having the government put an easement on your property, it is that it typically does not count against your acreage size. A .25 acre easement usually will not reduce the size of your property from one acre to .75 acres.

Tax Value – This will, of course, vary from county to county, but a change in your property value due to the placement of an easement may allow you to reduce your property value for tax purposes. This is not something that is done automatically, but something the property owner would have the petition the county (or city) to do. It’s unlikely to be something you would want to pursue if the value is minimal, but if the easement is causing a $100,000 reduction to property value, it may very well be worth the time and effort.

What can a lawyer do for me?

There are steps you should take when the government takes your land, which may include hiring a lawyer. An NC eminent domain lawyer can do two major things for you:

  1. Interpret legalese. Remember that sample deed language from earlier? Squeezed into the dense language could be an additional Slope Easement and Temporary Construction Easement. When you hire an attorney, you have someone with experience in eminent domain who can catch these hidden clauses.
  2. Fight for maximum compensation. The government has the right to take easements, but you want to try to make sure they compensate you fully. An attorney can help calculate all the current and future compensation you may be entitled to and make your case with the DOT and, if necessary, the courts.

Grappling with utility easements

We hope you have found this information helpful and informative, but this article is not inclusive of all issues you may face if an easement is being placed on your property. If a government project is impacting your land with an easement, we strongly encourage you to contact an attorney. Our team handles eminent domain cases from small residential to complex commercial takings and would be happy to evaluate your case for you. Please reach out to one of our attorneys at the North Carolina Eminent Domain Law Firm by calling 1-877-393-4990 or filling out a contact form.


NC’s street designs and what to do when your property is needed for one

Safety and efficiency are always a priority when planning communities, towns, and cities. From the street designs to sidewalks, bus stops, and crosswalks, engineers consider many factors before handing over their blueprints to the builders.

Thanks to innovative research and design, modern street designs have been improving the welfare and community aspect of the places we live, work, learn, and play.

Yet for property and business owners whose land is taken for the streets or for a right of way, it can become a financial burden.

Here, we offer a bit of information on four street designs you may have seen being constructed in North Carolina towns and communities. And we offer information on what you can do if your property lies in the NCDOT’s crosshairs when building these new street designs.


NC Eminent Domain Lawyers
Almost half of all car wrecks occur at intersections. The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration puts this figure right at 50%. It is not surprising then that NC towns and cities are incorporating more superstreet designs into community and urban planning.

Superstreets are designed primarily to try to eliminate the dangers of left turns at intersections. Their construction has been proven to result in significantly faster travel times and a reduced percentage of drivers involved in accidents.

Superstreets help to prevent left-turn accidents by forcing traffic on a side road to first turn right and then access a U-turn lane to turn left. Traffic on the main road can turn left directly.

While having to first turn right then make a U-turn to turn left may seem time-consuming and inconvenient, it actually results in a significant time savings since drivers do not have to wait to make left-hand turns or for traffic from cross-streets to go across the intersection, according to a North Carolina State University study. This study on the superstreet is the largest study ever conducted regarding the impact superstreets have on travel time and safety. Not only did the study show a 20% reduction in travel time over conventional traffic designs, it found that superstreet intersections experience an average of 46% percent fewer reported automobile collisions and 63% percent fewer collisions that result in personal injury.

Superstreets have been shown to be so effective in reducing accidents and improving travel time that five of them were incorporated as a part of the U.S. 17 upgrades near Wilmington.

Unfortunately, for some business owners on the path of a street that is redesigned as a superstreet, the drawbacks can be significant. Some customers may no longer want to make that U-turn to go visit the business or store. 

Continuous flow intersection (CFI)

A continuous flow intersection (CFI), sometimes referred to as a displaced left-turn intersection, is an innovative design to help improve safety and mobility by redirecting some or all left turns at a major signalized intersection. As you can see from the video below, vehicles turning left cross into dedicated left-turn bays turning onto the cross street. The primary advantage is that traffic turning left and through traffic happen simultaneously. This helps reduce delays at intersections and increase safety by reducing the number of conflict points at the intersection.








Continuous flow intersection (CFI), courtesy of NCDOT Communications

Complete streets

NC Eminent Domain Law Firm
Complete streets are designed to offer adequate space for all transportation methods. Whether you’re walking through town looking for a place to eat, rushing to get to work on the bus or in your car, cycling, or in a wheelchair, complete streets are designed to offer safer travel.

Complete streets aim to offer improved traffic control by providing ramps that are cut into curbs to allow wheelchairs and strollers to cross the street with ease, as well as wider sidewalks and pedestrian areas, bus turn-off lanes,  bike lanes, buffer zones, and greenery. Utilities are buried underground to make room for pedestrians. Environmentally friendly lighting is key, as is signage that can be seen by all travelers.

Yet someone’s property often has to be taken to make room for these new complete streets. Our eminent domain attorneys have been working with landowners since 2012 to help them try to get paid for the highest and best use of the property being taken. 

Roundabouts and traffic circles

Many people think roundabouts and traffic circles are the same, but that’s not the case – although they do serve similar purposes. Roundabouts and traffic circles are commonly mistaken as the same thing because of their identical circular shape, but they have very distinct differences.

Traffic circles are typically larger than roundabouts and are designed to settle the flow of traffic in an aesthetically pleasing design. They also have stop signs and are typically utilized in areas with speeds greater than 25 mph.

Roundabouts are smaller than traffic circles and offer a four-way intersection or junction in which traffic flows almost continuously in one direction around a central island. There are no stop signs and each car yields. Roundabouts are designed for traffic traveling less than 25 mph.

Here are some of the primary distinctions of traffic circles and roundabouts.

Comparative facts about roundabouts and traffic circles

Property taken for street redesign

Land takings and easements for these street designs (or any road construction project) can have a devastating impact on property and business owners. When the government exercises its right of eminent domain to take property needed to build a street, the property owners don’t have to simply accept whatever the government initially offers.

The government is required to pay fair compensation for what it takes and for the damage to the remaining property. Further, while a project may benefit the community or property owners as a whole, every property is unique, and some may experience more significant damages than others.

Our team has 100+ years of combined experience working on eminent cases. We have represented property owners who live along streets that are being redesigned and near intersections that are being changed, and we know how these changes often affect their homes or businesses. And we have seen the government undervalue properties and offer property owners less than what they potentially deserved.

We have the resources, experience, and relationships to help protect your rights as a property owner and fight for the highest potential compensation. In fact, since we have been in business, our firm has increased the average offer for our clients by 197%.1

Get a free case evaluation From the NC Eminent Domain Law Firm

If your property is on the NCDOT’s radar for any reason, we strongly urge you to talk with one of our experienced eminent domain attorneys. Our attorneys (several of whom used to work on behalf of the NCDOT) will evaluate your case for FREE. Complete the form on this page to contact us, or call 1-877-393-4990.


10 eminent domain obstacles business owners face – and what we can do to help

Sometimes it may seem as though, if you are a business owner in North Carolina, the eminent domain laws are stacked against you. Many of our business clients would agree. That is why they came to us.

Two of us used to work as Assistant Attorneys General for the state representing the NCDOT. Why did we leave the NCDOT to go to work fighting for individual property owners? We saw too many property owners, business owners in particular, leaving good money on the bargaining table. And we wanted to do something about it.

Why does it seem business owners face more obstacles?

While it is true businesses can often face a tougher uphill climb with respect to getting paid for damages to their property, this is by no means done on purpose. Rather it is an unfortunate result in how North Carolina’s eminent domain laws have been cobbled together over many years – some dating back to the early part of the 20th century when we were still an agricultural state. Our state has grown so fast, particularly over the last couple of decades, some laws and statutes that probably should not be on the books, still remain. And some can cause harm to the property owner.

That is why we suggest business owners in particular seek experienced eminent domain legal guidance if their business property is in the state’s crosshairs.

When the state files condemnation papers against your property, here are some of the non-compensable issues business owners need to pay particular attention to. We have gotten exceptions for our clients in many cases.1 But you need to know someone who is very familiar with the laws and types of evidence needed to overcome many of these types of objections.

10 issues businesses are not likely to be compensated for

  1. Lost profits. The NCDOT pays for taking the land and buildings, but not for lost profits or future business. And the land is only valued according to the general market – it doesn’t take into account your business value.
  2. Business interruption damages. If roads are torn up or ongoing road construction is kicking up dust next to your car wash, the NCDOT does not have to compensate you for the business you may lose as a result.
  3. Circuity of travel. A change in the road’s travel pattern, particularly the new superstreet design gaining widespread use, can make it more difficult for customers to access your business or may prohibit them from doing business with you altogether. Adding medians can have the same effect.
  4. Medians. Building a median on the roadway near your business can have detrimental effects on future business, simply because of the lack of access or difficulty of access. Unfortunately our courts have ruled that damages arising from medians are non-compensable.
  5. Stating initial concerns. Before the state takes your land, the NCDOT may pay you a friendly visit to explain that they plan to build a median, for example, and why they need your property. They may ask you what concerns you have about their efforts. We urge clients not to respond to that question before they consult with us. Here’s why. Let’s say you state you are concerned about lost profits. You may not be aware that lost profits are non-compensable. But the NCDOT is aware of that. Very aware. If you subsequently raise other issues of concern to you, the NCDOT may discount these potentially legitimate concerns. Why? They may assume these issues are a weak proxy for your concerns about the median’s effects.
  6. Service road access. Most people understand that if you have direct access to a busy road your property is more valuable than indirect access to only a service road. But NC law states the indirect service road is just as good as direct access and that damage to your business or property is not compensable.
  7. Rule of access. We have had the NCDOT argue in business cases that they could close driveways as long as some of them are left open. They have claimed those closings are not compensable if they have determined they left you with adequate access. We have successfully disagreed in the past, but these can often be very tough cases*.
  8. Property and parking nonconformance. A nonconforming property is one in which the business doesn’t meet code, zoning, or community requirements and bylaws. A property can become nonconforming in a variety of ways with regard to an eminent domain taking: setbacks, planting strips, parking, signage. Sometimes a business owner finds that when they become nonconforming, they can’t get a loan against the property, or if they do they are charged a risk premium. Some institutional buyers like Walgreens or Walmart may not even consider buying nonconforming properties. Often when a property becomes nonconforming, the owner is forced to tear down the building in order to conform to the newer zoning ordinances, etc. And there is no guarantee they will be able to rebuild. Some properties are so nonconforming that if they tried to bring the property back into compliance, it would be too small to meet today’s codes and requirements. These issues are often overlooked by the state condemning authorities, even when they are the entity who will later enforce the zoning codes.
  9. Signage. As a business owner, especially a fast food or convenience store owner, you know you can’t simply pick up your sign and move it when the state needs that piece of your property. There are new permits to apply for, and these have been getting more restrictive each year. The signs must be smaller. They can’t be as high. They have to be certain dimensions. On some properties, the sign can’t even be relocated. The best you may be able to hope for is to relocate the sign onto your building, which defeats the whole purpose of a “roadside” sign that alerts customers to your business.
  10. Easements. Whether a temporary construction easement, a utility easement, or a slope or drainage easement, easements can be an ugly trap for the unwary business owner. A lot of business owners don’t realize that if the NCDOT takes a utility easement across their road, they have essentially bought the right to prevent anyone from parking there and using it as an internal driveway any time in the future. And when they do, they do not have to pay the owner any additional compensation.

Exceptions to non-compensable damages

Sometimes we have been able to help commercial and industrial property owners by negotiating plan changes to the NCDOT project, like additional or wider access points*. This has occasionally helped maintain business momentum. These types of negotiations usually require extremely thorough knowledge, not only of NC’s dusty cobwebs of eminent domain laws, but sometimes, the type of knowledge and information that can come from having worked on their side – and, quite frankly, knowing many of the people involved.

NC Eminent Domain Lawyers offer FREE case evaluations for your business taking

We’ve drawn on our combined 100+ years of experience to help increase the average offer for our clients by 197%1 since we’ve been in business.

If your NC business is facing land condemnation, contact us for a free case evaluation, or call us at 1-877-393-4990. We’ll let you know if we think we can help you.


Why is NC designing complete streets? And what if your property is taken for one?

The concept of Complete Streets is pretty simple. It’s a roadway that is functionally and aesthetically designed for everyone including cyclists and pedestrians – not just cars, trucks, and busses. That’s why they are called “complete” streets.

East Blvd., Charlotte. Courtesy:

It’s a fairness for all concept – except those whose properties lie in their pathways.

If your property is affected by one of North Carolina’s proliferating Complete Streets projects, things may be far from “fair” from your perspective. Here, we explain why the NCDOT is suddenly interested in constructing Complete Streets in North Carolina, and what you can do if your property is needed for one.

Why complete streets in North Carolina?

In 2009, new NCDOT roadway policy changes mandated that, going forward, when they design new streets, the agency must consider all modes of transportation as they relate to safety, mobility, and accessibility.

Complete streets benefits

As more of us become more conscientious of our own health and that of the earth and its environment, many are seeking ways to replace their carbon footprint with their actual footprint by driving less and walking more. Still others enjoy taking the bus or bicycling to work or to run errands. For many, Complete Streets are deemed to be a safer, healthier, and more equitable means of getting from point A to point B.

Complete Streets aim to offer improved traffic control by providing new ramps that are cut into curbs to allow wheelchairs and strollers to cross the street with ease, as well as wider sidewalks and pedestrian areas, bus turn off lanes, and bike lanes. Utilities must be buried underground to make room for pedestrians. Environmentally friendly lighting is key, as is signage that can be seen by all travelers.

Charlotte, Raleigh, Asheville, and Durham are just some of areas where Complete Streets are making an impact in the Tar Heel State. Charlotte is considered a leader nationwide in the development of Complete Streets, according to the Charlotte Department of Transportation.

Economic benefits

There are economic benefits too. In addition to traffic control, Complete Streets have had positive economic impacts on local economies and businesses. Smart Growth America reports that Complete Streets can help stimulate the local economy through more business traffic, spur private investment, and raise property values.

Money for local economies

Savings from biking, walking, or taking public transit has saved $2.3 billion in Chicago and $19 billion a year in New York City. This adds up to money people can (and have) put right back into the local economy by way of housing, restaurants, and entertainment. The site also suggests that the time employees spend stuck in traffic congestion costs businesses too. In the San Francisco Bay Area sitting in traffic costs the city over $2 billion a year, and in Los Angeles $1.1 billion.

All that foot and bicycle traffic is a boon for local businesses. The NCDOT reported that the Hillsboro Complete Street design near NC State University in Raleigh led to a 42% increase in retail business. Smart Growth America found all six North Carolina Complete Streets projects they surveyed that looked at business effects, reported higher sales.

Increase in private investment

When the formerly neglected Washington, D.C., neighborhood, Barracks Row, underwent a Complete Streets redesign, the $8 million public investment generated additional $8 million in private money for local businesses. The result? Gentrification and 32 new businesses bringing in roughly $80,000 tax revenue annually.

Increased property values

Proponents say that Complete Streets can lead to streets that are safe and accessible whether walking or riding bikes, and this, alone, can help raise property values. One North Carolina neighborhood saw property values rise $5,000 after a bike path was added.

Property taken for complete streets

Land takings and easements for Complete Streets, Superstreets, or any road construction project is a necessary evil. What we want property owners to know is that when the government exercises their right of eminent domain to take property needed to build a street, the property owners don’t have to simply take whatever the government initially offers. The government is required to pay fair compensation for what it takes and for the damage to the remaining property. Further, while a project may benefit the community or property owners as a whole, every property is unique, and some may experience more significant damages than others.

Based on our 25+ years of combined experience, the government may undervalue your property and offer you less than what you potentially deserve. Without experienced legal guidance, it’s easy to accidentally take steps that may not be in your favor and can’t be reversed.

Get free case review from NC Eminent Domain lawyers – over 100+ years combined experience

If your property is on the NCDOT’s radar for a Complete Street or for any reason, we strongly urge you to talk with an eminent domain attorney. Our attorneys (several of whom used to work on behalf of the NCDOT) will review your case for FREE.

Complete the form on this page to contact us, or call 1-877-393-4990.

The Process of Eminent Domain

Eminent Domain Process Explained


Eminent domain is the power which the government or authorized entity uses to take your private property. It’s also known as “condemnation” or “land condemnation.” The eminent domain power in America comes from the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution, and the North Carolina Constitution also permits it through NC General Statutes 40A & 136.

You can divide the process of eminent domain into two elements: taking and compensation.

Eminent Domain Process: Taking

The government does not take – or authorize the taking of – your property on a whim. Before you’re ever likely aware that your property is targeted, there are many steps that must be taken before the government can take it.

Who Has the Power to Take My Property in North Carolina?

Before anything else can happen, your property cannot be taken without authority. The government, as we said above, has the power to take your property.

For example, the government may decide that the road by your house needs to be widened or converted into a superstreet, a highway connector needs to be built through your land, a new library must be erected, or an easement is needed for drainage. In all of these cases, the government is the “condemning authority,” and in North Carolina, the majority of eminent domain takings are by the Department of Transportation (NCDOT).

The government can also empower other entities to take your property, like utilities and communications companies.

For example, if your energy or communications provider needs to put up poles or bury wires or pipes, they may invoke the power of eminent domain. Either way, the process they must follow is very similar.

How Can the Government Take My Property?

There are two requirements that must be satisfied for the government to take your property:

  • Public Use Test: The condemned property can only be taken if the public has a right to the use of the property once it is taken. Note that this does not mean “all” of the public, nor does it mean the public must directly use the property in question. The courts have generally interpreted a public benefit arising from the taking as implying a public use.
  • Just Compensation: The government must pay fair market value for the property it is taking, including any impact to the value of your remaining property.

The ‘public use’ requirement is somewhat vague, and continues to be challenged in court. For example, in a case from back in the 1890s, the government denied a railroad company’s public use claim to land that was designated a historic battlefield. In the 1980s, the City of Oakland, CA was defeated when it tried to condemn the Oakland Raiders football team.

What Are the Steps the Government takes to Condemn My Property?

Once they have targeted your property, the condemning authority will do a couple of things.

  • Determine the value of your property
  • Make a monetary offer for voluntary transfer
  • If you can’t settle with negotiations the government will provide you with a notice of taking
  • The government will file its condemnation lawsuit in court, take your property, and deposit their estimate of just compensation

Payment of ‘just compensation’ for your property involves many different moving parts. Usually, the condemning authority wants to take as little as possible because they want to pay as little as possible.

Once the plans are completed the government stakes your property and sends out an appraiser to calculate damages.  The appraisal is provided to the right of way agent for them to negotiate the claim.

It is generally not a good idea to accept the government’s first offer, because if you take the money offered, they take your property, and the eminent domain process ends.

If you refuse the offer, the process continues.

Under North Carolina law, the condemning authority will file its lawsuit stating the public use for which your property is being acquired, and including its deposit of just compensation for the taking. Once these steps are completed, your claim is now in the condemnation phase.

Does the Government Sue Me in Eminent Domain?

Technically, yes. This sounds scary, but it’s simply a legal formality in the process of eminent domain. If you do not agree with the condemning authority’s offer, they file their complaint (technically a lawsuit) with the clerk of court in the county where the property is located. They also serve you notice, and deposit the funds from their offer with the clerk. Two things that are important to know here:

  • The money deposited with the clerk is yours even if you contest the amount and want more compensation. This is the minimum amount you’ll receive from the government or condemning authority for your property. Once the funds are with the clerk of court, you may withdraw them without waiving your claim to negotiate for more.
  • Once these steps are completed, the condemning authority legally owns your property.

Eminent Domain Process: Compensation

This second part of the eminent domain process is all about you getting the fairest possible compensation for your property. As is often the case, this also involves rules, deadlines, and a few moving parts. You have the opportunity to try to increase the offer, but there are many ways you can damage that opportunity (or lose it altogether).

How Long Do I Have to Fight My Eminent Domain Case?

You usually have one year from the date you received notice of the condemnation lawsuit, but you may have only 120 days in some cases. If you do not respond within the time allowed in your case, you waive your right to argue for more compensation.

Note that you must file an official “Answer” with the court which states your disagreement with the offer amount, and request a jury trial.

Also remember that, while all of this is happening, the condemning authority officially owns the property they took and can begin working on it!

Will I Succeed Fighting the Taking of My Property?

Usually, no. You have the right to challenge the taking, and that’s usually a challenge against the public use or public benefit tests. However, these cases rarely succeed. Your best bet is likely to seek maximum compensation for the taking.

How Do I Fight for More Compensation?

You have to gather evidence and show why your property is worth more, or damaged more, than is reflected in the offer you received from the taking authority. The condemning authority will have appraisers and lawyers working hard on their side to try to get your property for the lowest price – we know because three of our attorneys once worked for the NCDOT.

Many of the steps you can take on your own aren’t as helpful as you think, and can even harm your case. This portion of the process of eminent domain is where many property owners ultimately fail.

A qualified eminent domain lawyer can fight to try to get you fair compensation, and can try to make sure that the condemning authority is not abusing eminent domain statutes and that your land or home isn’t being taken for questionable reasons. We know the process, the methods, and the decision makers involved.

Find Out How We May Be Able to Help You!

If you have been notified that the government wants to take your property, contact the NC Eminent Domain Law Firm to find out if one of our qualified North Carolina eminent domain lawyers may be able to help you.

Call 1-877-393-4990 for a free evaluation of your case. Our eminent domain lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, which means that if we don’t recover any additional compensation for your property above what the government has offered you, we don’t collect an attorney’s fee. On average, our firm has increased our clients’ original offer by 202%.*


*Each case is different and must be evaluated separately. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Average based on each case’s increase as of 12/31/20.