Ridge Pike - Right-of-Way (ROW) Acquisition

Sections of the Ridge Pike Reconstruction Project are currently in the right-of-way acquisition phase, which means that the land area needed to construct the project is being purchased. Here are some common questions about the right-of-way process. 

What is right-of-way?

Right-of-way is the land set aside for public roads and pathways. Usually the land area is owned by the entity owning the road or pathway. Some rights-of-way can be on easements. Right-of-way can also include areas for stormwater or other public uses.  

What is an easement?

While right-of-way is purchased, some areas are needed only during construction. In these cases, a Temporary Construction Easement may be purchased. As noted, this is a temporary use of the land that ends when construction ends. Unless other arrangements are made, the area will usually be returned to its original condition, as much as possible. Sometimes an easement is needed to protect a steep slope or other facility. The original property owner retains ownership of the land and can use it as he or she sees fit, within certain parameters.

Who is acquiring right-of-way?

The Montgomery County Transportation Authority (MCTA) is empowered by Pennsylvania state law to acquire right-of-way for road improvement projects on behalf of Montgomery County.

How does the right-of-way process work?

  • Design the Road: The proposed road design determines the amount of right-of-way that will be needed. Road designs must be reviewed and approved by various agencies including PennDOT and the Department of Environmental Protection (PaDEP). Once approved, the road design determines where additional right-of-way may be needed and which properties will be affected. Road widening almost always requires additional right-of-way.
  • Determine Value: Each acquisition requires a three-step process to determine the fair market value of the property to be acquired:
Step 1 – Appraisal Problem Analysis (APA): The MCTA hires a certified appraisal review firm to produce an APA. The APA lists basic information about the parcel and provides details about the kinds of right-of-way the MCTA needs so that the appraiser knows what they are valuing.

Step 2 – Appraisal: The MCTA hires a second certified appraisal firm to complete a full property appraisal, which determines the fair market value of the right-of-way or easements needed for the project

Step 3 – Appraisal Review: The appraisal is reviewed by the same firm that wrote the APA. The appraisal is reviewed to make sure that the methodology used to establish value is sound. 

  • Negotiation: The MCTA hires a right-of-way negotiating agent to present the offer to the property owners. The agent informs the property owners of their rights, explains the process, and notes what property owner costs are reimbursable. The agent will work with the property owner to help reach an agreement on price.

If the property owner and MCTA agree on a price, then the MCTA will purchase the needed right-of-way. If they cannot agree, or if the property owner does not respond to the agent’s offer, then the MCTA can file eminent domain to force a sale through the court system. At no time is property “taken” without compensation to the property owner.

What kinds of right-of-way are needed for the project?

Most right-of-way acquisitions are for small strips of a property along the edge of a roadway. Occasionally, some improvements require more space leading to a parcel being acquired in full. All acquisitions are based on an appraised fair market value for the property.

In some instances, the MCTA only needs a Temporary Construction Easement on a property, which means that ownership remains with the property owner, but the MCTA can use the area temporarily during construction. The MCTA pays property owners for these easements also. Other easement may be acquired to protect slopes or provide access to stormwater management facilities.

Who is the MCTA’s right-of-way agent?

Stantec is the MCTA agent for Sections B and D of the Ridge Pike Improvement Project. Stantec brings an experienced right-of-way negotiating team familiar with PennDOT requirements for acquiring property. Based in Mechanicsburg, PA, they have worked on numerous PennDOT and Montgomery County projects including Ridge Pike in Plymouth Township, county bridge replacement projects, and I-83 in central Pennsylvania.

What is eminent domain (also known as condemnation)?

Eminent domain is a legal process used to complete a sale between a government agency and a property owner when a mutual agreement cannot be attained. It is NOT a seizure or forfeiture of land, and compensation at the fair market value is always provided.

Does the MCTA use eminent domain to acquire properties?

Eminent domain is used only as a last option. The MCTA’s goal is to come to a friendly sale with every property owner affected by a county project. Eminent domain procedures are used only if the property owner does not reply to the offer, refuses to sell, or cannot reach a compensation agreement with the MCTA.

Can the MCTA use eminent domain to acquire properties not needed for the project?

No.  Federal and state laws mandate that land cannot be acquired for anything other than the purpose of improving the roads. All acquisitions must be included on the engineer’s right-of-way plans, which are reviewed by PennDOT.  

Can the MCTA seize land without paying for it?

No. Whether the MCTA acquires land through a friendly sale or through eminent domain, the property owner always receives money for his or her property, and that value is always set through a neutral, independent appraisal.

Does the MCTA compensate renters and homeowners for having to move?

Yes. It is rare that an acquisition is to the extent that complete vacation of a property is required. However, when it is required, homeowners and renters are each entitled to relocation benefits. Homeowners are reimbursed for moving costs and for professional services (such as hiring a lawyer or having their own appraisal done). By law, renters are given a payment that helps supplement their rent for a certain amount of time and are also reimbursed for moving costs.

How do I know the appraisal is accurate and the offer is fair?

The MCTA only uses certified appraisers who are also on PennDOT’s approved appraiser list. In addition, the appraiser uses up to three different methods to value the property, and each appraisal is reviewed by another fully certified appraiser to confirm the conclusions. Property owners may also obtain their own appraisal or retain an attorney. Costs of these services may be reimbursed. The right-of-way negotiator can explain the reimbursement process.

Who is making sure the MCTA abides by all federal and state acquisition laws?

The Ridge Pike Reconstruction Project is divided into four sections. All of the sections receive federal funds through PennDOT, except Section D between Crescent Avenue and Northwestern Avenue. The federal/state funding process means that all acquisition activities must carefully follow procedures outlined in federal law. These procedures have evolved over the years to ensure that property owners and renters are treated fairly and respectfully. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania also has its own property acquisition laws. Both the FHWA and PennDOT oversee the project’s right-of-way activities to make certain that all regulations are being followed. While Section D is being funded 100 percent with county funds, the MCTA follows the same strict federal and state rules for all right-of-way acquisition activities.