The National Academies

NCHRP 20-06/Topic 23-05 [Final]

Update of Selected Studies in Transportation Law: Volume Eight, Section 3: Indian Transportation Law
[ NCHRP 20-06 (Legal Problems Arising out of Highway Programs) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $36,250
Research Agency: Lindsey Hanson
Principal Investigator: Lindsey Hanson
Effective Date: 3/9/2018
Completion Date: 8/3/2018
Comments: Completed; Published as NCHRP 76

This Digest examines and updates legal issues arising out of federal, state, and local transportation agencies’ relations with Indian tribes. Government-to-government relations with Indian tribes touch a gamut of legal issues: contracting with tribes, Tribal Employment Rights Ordinances (TERO), funding issues,  legal issues arising out of rights-of-way through Indian reservations, regional planning issues, compliance with state environmental laws bumping up against Indian sovereign immunity, tort liability issues, etc. The federal government has a relationship with Indian tribes based upon unique trust obligations  derived from treaties (which are federal law) and the status of tribes as domestic dependent nations. States and local governments do not have the same relationship and yet interact with tribal governments in a number of ways that can involve legal issues. The authority conferred upon  state and local jurisdictions in Indian country, to the extent it exists, is patchwork  and varies depending upon the jurisdiction and unique factual situation. In some cases, there are huge gaps in the law relative to a state or local transportation agency’s ability to conduct business with a tribe. Moreover, there is an overlay of federal law that may affect the rights and obligations of state and local agencies.


Most of the case law examined in the original document published in 2007 continues to be good law today; where this is not the case the document has been updated


Since the original version of this Section, federal regulations concerning grants of right-of-way over Indian lands have changed significantly.  This section also contains new guidance concerning land acquisition, project development, construction, maintenance, and government-to government agreements related to Indian Transportation law. Sections on reservation boundary disputes, defining Indian country, and land ownership in Indian country have been added and the portions of the document addressing jurisdictional issues have been revised significantly.


This digest will be useful to transportation lawyers, engineers, and planners who who work on reservations and Indian country more broadly.


Volume 8: Transportation Law and Government Relations, of Selected Studies in Transportation Law series covers civil rights and transportation agencies, transportation and the United States Constitution, Indian transportation law, and motor vehicle law.  Volume 8 may accessed at: https://www.trb.org/Publications/Blurbs/159372.aspx.

STATUS: Completed. Published as NCHRP LRD 76.

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