The Czech Senate approved an amendment bill introduced by the Chamber of Deputies which seeks to speed up the construction of transportation infrastructure (among other things). The bill may now be signed into law by the president.
Many have lost years of their life to the stress and rage associated with the need to use Czech long-distance roads in order to get to their holiday destination and ending up in interminable traffic jams, but there is now a silver lining on the horizon. One day soon, family vacations may no longer be marred by frustrated trips at a snail’s pace across Czech roads, or end on a bad note because daddy behind the wheel throws a tantrum on the endless journey home: the Czech senate on 18 July 2018 passed a bill introduced by the house of deputies amending the act on the acceleration of transportation infrastructure projects whose aim it is to speed up the implementation of these (and other) projects. The bill will now be signed into law by the president.
A particularly powerful tool for speeding up the construction of motorways is the new concept of the interim decision. Originally, the lawmaker intended to take a page from Germany’s playbook and introduce “early seizure” which would have allowed the (clearly delineated and limited) use of land plots designated for a given transportation infrastructure project even before the eminent domain procedure has come to an end.
However, as discussions of the bill on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies progressed, early seizure was replaced by the interim decision over concerns regarding the constitutionality of the former. Those in favor of the interim decision argued that the inordinate length of expropriation (eminent domain) proceedings is usually caused by the fact that no consensus can be reached with respect to the proper amount of compensation paid to the expropriated owner. Because of this, it often takes years before a final decision becomes available. The interim decision is designed to resolve this issue.
Specifically, if the authority in charge of the eminent domain procedure finds that the requirements for expropriation are otherwise met (i.e., other than the determination of the proper amount of compensation), it may now issue an interim decision on the expropriation as such (without setting a specific amount of compensation). This interim decision cannot be appealed before the administrative authorities, though it may be contested by way of an administrative lawsuit. The courts would have to hear and decide such a lawsuit within a statutory time period of 60 days (whereas this time period is also binding upon the appellate court and the court of higher review in the event that the first-instance decision is being appealed).
The interim decision makes it possible to start construction work right away, and because expropriation and compensation are decoupled, the construction of the transportation infrastructure will not be affected by a later ruling (in the final decision) on the amount of compensation to be paid even if the proper level of compensation becomes the subject of a dispute. During the time period until a final decision has been handed down, the expropriated property owner is entitled to advance payments on the compensation award, in an amount to be determined by an expert appraisal.
The above-described interim decision is not the only instrument in the amendment’s tool-box designed to expedite the implementation of transportation infrastructure: the amendment also introduces a legal fiction for the event that the “binding opinion by relevant authorities” (which is a prerequisite for the decision on the construction of a given piece of transportation infrastructure) is not issued within the stipulated period of 60 days. In such a case, it is being assumed that the decision which gives the green light for construction work is not, after all, conditional upon the existence of the binding opinion (and if such an opinion is eventually issued, it will be ignored).
For the time being, the interim decision is not supposed to be applicable across the board for all transportation infrastructure projects but only for those which enjoy special priority and are listed as such in an annex to the amendment bill (i.e., in particular, the Prague ring road and the motorways D1, D2, D3, D4, D5, D6, D7, D8, D10, D11, D35, D43, D48, D49, D52, and D55). This very fact – that only selected projects should be affected by the amendment – may well trigger a constitutional complaint, as has been signaled by several senators.