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What happens when the state wants to build a road on my land?

Like other government agencies in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has the power to exercise eminent domain, meaning it can take the property of a Philadelphia resident and apply that property to a public purpose, such as building or improving a road.

The Department of Transportation has its own set of procedures for dealing with landowners when the Department needs to acquire land. As such, even before going to court, they are likely to approach a private landowner with an offer to purchase the land for "just compensation," as it is the constitutional right of a landowner to receive just compensation for land that is taken.

In many cases, the Department will use appraisers to come up with the value of the land that the Department wants to take. However, when the land taken is worth less than $10,000, or in certain other cases, the Department may estimate the value in other ways. The Department will specify in a written offer what it is willing to pay for the land and, in general, how it came to that figure.

The Department also offers landowners some other incidental benefits. For instance, it may cover the transaction costs of transferring title to the property, and also grants up to $4,000 for a landowner to consult its own appraiser in order to double check the Department's figures. The Department will also reimbursement early repayment fees on a mortgage and, if the Department is forcing a person off the property, certain relocation benefits.

Someone who does not like the Department's offer is free offer additional information to the Department in order to support a higher offer. A person is also free to reject the Department's informal offer and thereby make them take their eminent domain action to the local court, where the amount of compensation being offered can be challenged.

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