Sometimes a county road project will require the relocation of utilities placed within the county right-of-way. Utilities can be required to move their facilities if relocation is necessary for the road project. The question often arises as to who is responsible for paying the costs associated with the utility relocation. Tennessee follows the common law rule that in the absence of a statute providing otherwise, public utilities must remove their facilities at their own expense Pack v. Southern Bell Tel. & Tel. Co., 387 S.W.2d 789 (1965); State v. Southern Bell Tel. & Tel. Co., 319 S.W.2d 90 (1958) (cert. denied by U.S. Supreme Court, Memphis Transit Co v. Tennessee ex rel Leech, 359 U.S. 1011 (1959)); Bristol Tenn. Housing Authority v. Bristol Gas Corp., 407 S.W.2d 681 (1966); Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency v. South Central Bell Telephone Co., 562 S.W.2d 438 (Tenn. App. 1978).
Statutory authority exists for the state to reimburse utilities for their costs in relocating facilities involved in projects undertaken by TDOT. T.C.A. § 54-5-804. This statute authorizes, but does not require, reimbursement. In contrast, T.C.A. § 13-20-303 requires municipalities, housing authorities and other public bodies of the state to reimburse utilities for relocation costs if the relocation is related to a redevelopment or urban renewal project. Aside from these two statutes, there does not appear to be any statutory authorization or requirement to reimburse utilities for relocation expenses.