A bill to tighten UDOT restrictions on eminent domain is killed in committee

(UDOT | Courtesy photo) This file photo shows part of the route of the planned West Davis Corridor highway, an northward extension of the Legacy Parkway. The Utah Department of Transportation released photos along the state's preferred route of the West Davis Corridor freeway as identified Thursday in a new environmental impact statement.

A plan by Blanding Republican Rep. Phil Lyman to tighten rules for government takeover of private property through eminent domain — including barring its use for public parks, trails and bike paths or sporting facilities — was shot down at its first hearing Wednesday.

HB261 was rejected by an 8-3 margin in the House Political Subdivisions Committee following opposition by the Utah League of Cities and Towns and the state Department of Transportation.

UDOT was particularly critical of the measure, claiming that its passage would lead to lawsuits and expensive delays in road projects.

In one example, UDOT’s Charles Stormont pointed to the West Davis Corridor project extending the Legacy Parkway northward, and said HB261 could lead to an expected 2-year delay in construction.

“That would result in inflationary costs on an $800 million project in excess of $100 million,” Stormont, UDOT director of right of way, said. “It sounds alarmist, it sounds like a big number, but our experience shows us that a single property owner could engage in that type of a delay tactic.”

He warned of similar costly delays in the U.S. Highway 89 and Moab Main Street projects.

Lyman said he considered his proposal a “very gentle bill” that was toned down to accommodate the concerns of UDOT and local governments. Their opposition to the measure, he added, was “a little baffling to me.”

The lawmaker said he was not accusing the highway department or other government entities of abusing eminent domain powers, but said the potential exists. His desired outcome was that eminent domain be “used a little bit less in this state than it’s used now, a little bit more selective and a lot more care.”

Backed by the Utah Farm Bureau Federation and the libertarian Libertas Institute, the measure is one of five bills filed in the current legislative session dealing with proposed new controls on eminent domain.