Lamar Advantage Outdoor Company and Ralston Outdoor Advertising each own a handful of billboards along I-35 between the Loop 12 split on the south and the intersection with LBJ on the north.
Last year, the companies began to worry about the impact to their property of the LBJ Express Project, the $2 billion reconstruction of 635 that will also add elevated HOV lanes along the aforementioned stretch of I-35. In August they submitted, through their attorney, an open records request for the agency's "Takings Impact Assessment"
TxDOT failed to respond in timely manner to open records request seeking information on the agency's "Takings Impact Assessment," a document that spells out a project's potential effect on private property. After some delay, TxDOT responded that it had no such document. The companies discovered through other means that their property would indeed be impacted.
"Specifically, the elevated ramps that will connect Loop 12 and I-35E to I-635 will block several of our clients' billboard locations and prevent them from using the signs as they are being used and would otherwise continue to be used," their attorney, J. Allen Smith, wrote in a May 15 letter to TxDOT.
Smith also took the agency to task for failing to draft a TIA, which he said was required under Texas' Private Real Property Rights Preservation Act. Then, he issued an ultimatum: "If TxDOT does not immediately cease all construction, our clients will have no choice but to pursue all avenues available under Texas and federal law to protect their property rights."
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Which explains the lawsuit filed yesterday in Dallas County by Lamar, Ralston, and the owners of the land on which their billboards stand. The complaint, first reported by Courthouse News, asks a judge to declare TxDOT's decision to pursue the project void, effectively slamming the breaks on the whole, $2 billion shebang.
Whether that happens will be up to a judge, and TxDOT, which has not yet returned a call for comment, is sure to fight the lawsuit tooth and nail. But Smith says the agency is "really proceeding at their own peril" by operating without a TIA, and he thinks a judge will agree the law is firmly on the billboard owners' side.
"I guess that's what bulldozers and cranes are for."
Update at 2:11 p.m.: TxDOT spokesman Tony Hartzel says the company does not comment on pending litigation.