U.S. justices deliver blow to 'rails-to-trails' policy
(Reuters) - In a setback to the U.S. government's long-running policy of converting abandoned railroads into public trails, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled for a Wyoming property owner who objected to a plan to extend a pathway across his land.
In a decision that could affect similar cases across the United States, the court ruled on an 8-1 vote that the right-of-way across Marvin Brandt's land that was established by a railroad was extinguished when the railroad was later abandoned.
As a result, the U.S. Forest Service cannot build a public trail along a half-mile stretch of the railroad that crosses Brandt's land in Fox Park. The land is in the Medicine Bow National Forest, about 40 miles west of Laramie, Wyoming.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissenting opinion that the decision "undermines the legality of thousands of miles of former rights of way that the public now enjoys as means of transportation and recreation."
She said the court's decision could lead to more expensive litigation over other trails, including compensation claims filed by landowners.
The railroad in question, the Laramie, Hahn's Peak and Pacific Railroad Co, was 66 miles long, running from Laramie to the Colorado border. The line was formally abandoned in 2004, prompting the U.S. government to seek title so it could transform the land into a trail, as it has done to former railroads throughout the country since the 1980s.
There is currently a 21-mile (34-km) trail that includes a detour around Brandt's property.
The Rails to Trails Conservancy, which backed the government in the case, had previously said a ruling for Brandt could affect popular trails, including the George S. Mickelson Trail in South Dakota and the Rio Grande Trail in Colorado.
There are currently about 20,000 miles of so-called rail trails, according to the conservancy. Some, including those that run through federally-owned land, would not be affected by the decision.
But Kevin Mills, the group's senior vice president of policy and trail development, said the ruling would make certain trail projects "more vulnerable to litigation from adjoining landowners."
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts rejected the government's claim that the right of way reverted to the government once the railroad ceased operating.
He said that the terms of the agreement that allowed Brandt to assume ownership of his land from the federal government in 1976 largely determined the outcome. The contract made no mention of the right-of-way switching to the government, Roberts said.
The case is Brandt v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, 12-1173.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; editing by Howard Goller and G Crosse)
Trails Community Concerned Over Senate Bill 67
January 24, 2014
Update to Senate Bill 67, in the Indiana Senate. Senator Joseph Zakas, Chairman of the Senate Civil Law Committee has tabled the vote on this legislation. The Hoosier Rails to Trails Council wishes to thank Senator Zakas for his decision.
The announcement that a bill introduced in the Indiana State Senate would prohibit eminent domain as a legal means of adding to trails sent chills through the Indiana trail community. Senate Bill 67 proposed just that. In the extremely rare cases requiring this procedure, the tenor of this legislation, in light of the sustained and sometimes vitriolic opposition to creating trails, seemed threatening.
The power to take private property for public use with due compensation, but not requiring the consent of the property owner constitutes eminent domain.
During the first hearing of the bill, Rhonda Cook, Director of Government Affairs and Legislative Counsel for IACT, the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns and Mario Vian, Policy Analyst for the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council both testified against the bill. The bill received endorsement from the Farm Bureau.
After the hearing, the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council met with the bill’s sponsor, Senator Greg Walker, putting to rest our concern that trails were under legislative fire.
Demonstrating sensitivity to the concerns of a constituent involving an eminent domain condemnation, Senator Walker aimed to ameliorate the conflict by giving the issue a legislative airing, but not to hinder trail development. Our meeting, both cordial and informative, concluded that trails effectively serve multiple uses, not merely recreational. The wording of the bill specified restricting the use of eminent domain for trails involving purely recreational use.
Read what the Senate Bill 67 says:
Richard Vonnegut and Mario Vian of the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council joined eleven other Hoosiers, and more than 800 participants at the Grand Embassy Hotel for a noisy and focused gathering of bike believers caught in the swirl of political frenzy over possible funding cuts in reauthorizing the National Transportation Bill.
The conference focused on maintaining the policy status and funding cycle for cycling (and walking, handicapped access) to the national transportation budget. This element of funding first saw light during the George H. W. Bush administration which started funding these venues for the first time in U. S. history. (Ironically, it was the League of American Wheelmen in the 1880’s which first petitioned the government for road funding, before motorized mobility held it hostage.)
Advocacy Corner Transportation Bill Update
Making Sense of the National Transportation Budget Issue
Confusion seems to be the order of business as legislators line up to make political hay about what’s important and what’s not with respect to the national transportation budget.
For 853 days, Congress has played kick the budget can down the road by repeatedly extending the expired national transportation budget.
The complicated problem of the United States Transportation Budget in 2011: A Brief Overview.
It is no laughing matter. So much bad information and misinformation and political posturing makes a reasoned analysis of the budget proposals for the United States Transportation tragic.
First of all, many people who know better put a false face on the budget. People in power claim that highway transportation has all the funding it needs. After all, it comes from the “user tax,” the federal tax portion of the consumer cost of a gallon of gas at the pump, right?
TRANSPORTATION DEBATE UPDATE
THE SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BUDGET DEBATE—STILL IN LIMBO
Lately, a void seems to have hit the news on reauthorization of surface transportation funding. No doubt with elections over, there will soon be more to tell, since its latest extension is set to expire at the end of December. Trail builders and proponents watch this process especially, because states have received substantial sums of money for alternative transportation projects through this budget. According to the Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC), Transportation Enhancements, or TE, are the “. . .
Vulnerable Roadway law and the 3 foot law.
Safe Routes to School - Indiana
The Hoosier Rails to Trails Council, Inc, advocates for Safe Routes to School.
LaHood Controversy: U.S. National Transportation Policy Ill-Advised?
Editorial by Mario Vian, Policy Analyst, Hoosier Rails to Trails Council.
Hoosier Rails to Trails Council recently joined a small cadre at the welcoming of Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood to the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School as part of the national “Safe Routes to School” campaign.
Secretary LaHood caused quite a controversy as he announced a “sea change” in U.S. transportation policy, declaring that national transportation funds should give the same consideration to biking and walking as to motorized transport. This announcement came during the well attended National Bicycle Summit earlier this year.
2010 Purdue Road School Summary (It’s not just for cars anymore)
The 96th Annual Purdue Road School was conducted on March 9 – 11 at the Stewart Center on the Purdue University Campus. Approximately 1500 public agency representatives, elected officials, consultants, students, and members of the public attended to learn about a range of topics pertaining to the nations’, states’, and local transportation systems. Of the over 50 technical sessions that were offered, at least 3 sessions comprising 8 presentations were on topics directly affecting bicyclists and bicycle facilities.
Complete Streets Legislation Aims at Making Streets Friendlier
Higher gas and oil prices have forced a new urbanization. It makes more sense in every way to make available grocery stores, merchandisers and drug stores, hair cutting salons and others routine services without needing to drive a car or truck to get there.
BIKE ACROSS AMERICA 3
Introducing: An Interstate Bike Route System for the United States
As more Hoosiers get on board, we may see signs like this.
Cycling News from the City of Indianapolis
Right before Christmas, Hoosier Rails to Trails Council interviewed Andy Lutz, Indianapolis Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator (a part of the Indianapolis Department of Public Works). We sought news on what might appear next for Indianapolis, our headquarters and Indiana’s most populous city, on the heels of the latest striping of a bicycle lane on the city’s northeast side.
Indiana Department of Transportation Appoints Jerry Halperin
The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT, has appointed Mr. Jerry Halperin of the Office of Urban & Corridor Planning, Transportation Development Specialist/Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinator.
An 18 year veteran of the Indiana Department of Transportation, and an avid bicyclist, Mr. Halperin serves on the board of the Central Indiana Bicycling Association.
TRAIL DOLLARS GENERATE MILES
About a year ago, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced $19 million in grant money to further Indiana trail projects. Add to that the Obama stimulus funds; and add to that the U. S. Surface Transportation budget reauthorization and Indiana trails seem to have struck a Powerball jackpot. How these newer dollar infusions will be spent is still being decided in many cases; some is yet to be received. Nevertheless, trail engineers and designers have been quite busy with the gubernatorial windfall. The Daniels’ grants were given through Indiana ’s Department of Natural Resources to specific construction projects on thirty separate trails. A number of projects have been finished and are newly opened. Others are nearing completion and expect to be in use before year’s end, while larger projects still continue toward fulfillment. The following is a status report on some of these trails.