Guidelines on Highway Drainage Laws Are Updated by ICT/IDOT Team

Through a project funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), Illinois Center for Transportation researcher Arthur Schmidt and his team recently completed a comprehensive update to an IDOT guidance document designed to advise state and local public agency personnel on highway drainage issues and help resolve any conflicts that might arise in the field. The deliverable for this project is a manual, Illinois Drainage Law Related to Highways and Adjacent Landowners, which stands as a comprehensive examination of the rules and regulations regarding this complex topic.

Schmidt is a research assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“The greatest challenge in this project,” relates Schmidt, “was not technical but rather related to learning the nuances of a different profession—how to navigate myriad documents related to enacting new laws and related to court-case precedents. The legal profession has a very different system of documenting and referencing court decisions than the system of references used in the engineering profession.”

To overcome this challenge, Schmidt and two University of Illinois students, Kexuan Wang and Reshmina William, enlisted the help of law students and learned how to locate and cross-reference court case precedents affecting drainage law. Drainage issues are covered by many different precedents, statutes, and regulations that are interpreted by various committees, agencies, and courts. Schmidt and his team worked hard to ensure that the laws and regulations referenced in this manual were the most up-to-date versions.

In addition, several significant laws that could affect drainage in the future are currently up for debate, such as the U.S. EPA’s proposed expansion of the definition of “waters of the United States,” which has been hotly contested by the EPA and environmental advocates on one side, and agricultural, construction, and transportation groups on the other. “Wading through the information published by both sides in this issue allowed us to present a—hopefully unbiased—discussion of a possible change that would significantly impact transportation drainage,” explains Schmidt.

This updated drainage manual will be of valuable assistance to IDOT as well as other state and local public agencies and authorities. According to Thomas Winkelman, Technical Review Panel (TRP) co-chair of this project, “Local highway authorities, in conjunction with their county state’s attorney or other legal representative, will be able to refer to this manual to locate relevant drainage case law when conflicts with adjacent landowners arise.” Winkelman is Acting Local Program Development Engineer in IDOT’s Bureau of Local Roads and Streets (BLS). Serving as TRP co-chair was James Klein, Acting Engineer of Local Roads and Streets for BLS.

This is the first update of this manual since 1986, and much has changed in the landscape of drainage regulation, environmental awareness, and legal precedents in that time. Schmidt and his engineering students were challenged to step outside their normal boundaries and undertake a cross-disciplinary approach that will ultimately benefit many people researching and working in their field.

There were many interesting aspects of this work, Schmidt notes. “Perhaps the most interesting was researching the court cases that define drainage law.  These cases go back to the 1800s, when case precedents provided the basis for what has become statutory drainage law.  The cases are as recent as a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that was part of what prompted the move to redefine ‘waters of the United States.’”


Microsoft Word - FHWA-ICT-14-016

The purpose of this new manual is to inform landowners, highway authorities, and other interested parties about general legal principles related to drainage and drainage improvements.


Posted January 16, 2015