In Manthe v. DOT (2017AP1598), the Court of Appeals District IV held that Wisconsin’s freeway statute (Wis. Stat. § 84.295(3)) does not violate equal protection rights and denied damages to a property owner following the condemnation of his property by the state Department of Transportation (DOT).
Manthe’s property is located on either side of Highway 51. When DOT expanded Highway 51 from two to four lanes, Manthe lost the ability to cross the highway at a single location, and thus the route between his two parcels of property increased by two miles. Manthe argued he should be compensated for the increased travel time.
Designation of Highway 51 as Freeway
First, Manthe requested a writ of mandamus compelling DOT to designate Highway 51 (currently a controlled access highway) as a freeway. Wisconsin statutes entitle to compensation only landowners with property abutting a freeway. The court declined to require the designation of Highway 51 as a freeway because Wis. Stat. § 84.295(3) and related statutes give DOT the discretion, not a requirement, to designate freeways.
Equal Protection Challenge
Manthe’s equal protection challenge to Wis. Stat. § 84.295(3) argued that the statute creates two distinct groups: 1) landowners with property abutting a freeway and 2) landowners with property abutting a controlled access highway. Manthe contended that these two groups are similarly situated because Wis. Stat. § 84.295(3) allows DOT to designate identically constructed roadways as either a freeway or a controlled access highway. The groups are then given unequal treatment under the law because only landowners abutting freeways are entitled to compensation.
However, the court agreed with DOT’s analysis of the constitutionality of the statute, stating that the two groups are not similarly situated because landowners abutting controlled access highways may still have driveway access to the highway. The court declined to analyze whether there is a rational basis for the unequal treatment of the two groups because they are not similarly situated.
Compensation for Loss of Time
The court denied Manthe’s request for damages for increased travel time between his two property parcels that are separated by Highway 51. The court relied on prior case law stating that only loss of direct access is compensable. In this case, Manthe’s property still had direct access to the highway.
Furthermore, the court said compensation for loss of time under Wis. Stat. § 32.09 is not applicable because DOT took only a small part of Manthe’s land, so there was no actual taking of property.