With the passing of California’s new gas tax (SB1) earlier this year, local government agencies have come across a new source of funding to complete public infrastructure projects. According to an article in the Ceres Courier, Caltrans Seeks Comments on Service Road Interchange, the City of Ceres hopes its Service/Mitchell/Highway 99 Interchange project can benefit from the new funds. As part of the project, Caltrans and the City are planning one of the State’s first “diverging diamond” designs, which would add a new interchange at Service Road and modify the Mitchell interchange at Highway 99. As a result, El Camino would be eliminated and a number of properties would be impacted.

The City has been purchasing impacted properties on El Camino in anticipation of the project, but deals have not been reached with all property owners. The City is hoping to avoid the use of eminent domain, but it hasn’t been ruled out. In addition to acquiring impacted properties, typically service roads and new interchanges can substantially change access (ingress and egress) to a property, which could also result in a potential taking triggering the need to pay compensation. Many times the government does not consider changes in access when deciding what properties to acquire or when make offers of just compensation under eminent domain law. But a substantial impairment of access or a taking of a property’s abutter’s rights can trigger liability, and if the agency does not formally acquire such rights, a property owner could bring an inverse condemnation action to recover compensation. If successful, the inverse condemnation action also entitles the owner to recover attorneys’ fees, expert fees, and other litigation costs, so it’s important for agencies to ensure they consider potential liability with such projects.

The final design is still open to comment, but absent any major comments, Caltrans intends to proceed as planned.