MONTPELIER, VT (AP) A number of companies along busy U.S. Route 7 south of Burlington that claim they lost business when the highway was redesigned during reconstruction in recent years cannot recover those losses from the state, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled July 14.
Five different property owners along Shelburne Road, as the highway is known as it passes through Shelburne, South Burlington, and Burlington, sued when the state installed a raised median between the northbound and southbound lanes.
They argued that because traffic could no longer make left turns directly into their businesses, they were losing customers. Under the redesign, there are 16 places where traffic can make left turns either directly into a property on the opposite side of the road or to make U-turns to head the other direction and reach a business.
The state had to take land from the five businesses that sued and many others along Shelburne Road, but it paid for the property.
The businesses that sued claimed that their additional losses should have been compensated along with the payment for the land because state law requires it if taking the land leads to additional losses.
The Supreme Court said their analysis was wrong because their alleged losses were related to the construction of the raised median, not to the taking of the land.
“We agree with the [Transportation] Agency that landowners cannot be compensated for the loss of traffic flow that results from the placement of a traffic control device, such as a median strip,” Justice Denise Johnson wrote for the unanimous court.
The Shelburne Road reconstruction led to many complaints from businesses on the highway, which is home to dozens of restaurants, stores, car dealerships and offices. They said the new traffic pattern made it more difficult to get into their parking lots and the period of construction work caused big traffic backups.
State law allows businesses to be compensated by state government if a highway construction project that requires land to be taken costs them business. But the law says the loss must be directly related to the taking of the land by the state.
In the case of Shelburne Road, all of the businesses but one said the loss was related to the construction of the raised median. The fifth, a car dealership, said the construction of a new entrance to its lot took space where it previously displayed new cars, cutting into its business.
“Landowners are not entitled to compensation for losses other than those that flow directly from the taking of the strip of property adjacent to the highway,” Johnson wrote.