Frequently Asked Questions - Public Works
Rights of Way

Q: What is a public right of way?


In Oregon, it is a strip of land of a specific width, which has been legally established by a property owner, a court of law, and/or a county, for public road purposes. The road right-of-way is typically much wider than the road itself, because it includes roadside ditches, roadbed slopes, and cleared space to ensure adequate visibility and safety. The right-of-way lines, on both sides of the roadway, separate the abutting owners' property from the land available to the public or local road agency for road construction and maintenance.

Are there different kinds of public roads?
A public road is a road that everyone has a right to use and which is a matter of legal, public record. State highways and city streets are two types of public roads. Josephine County has a type of public road called a "county road." There are also other types of public roads in Josephine County. The degree of county maintenance responsibility depends on the status of the road, applicable state law, county laws and county policies.

County Roads
A county road is a public road which has come under the jurisdiction and control of the County for maintenance. It takes a certain right-of-way width minimum roadway standard, and formal action of the Board of County Commissioners, to make a public road into a county road. The County has jurisdiction over the entire width, of the right-of-way. When a road has been accepted into the Josephine County road system, the Public Works Department has responsibility for maintaining the road, setting standards and specifications for road work, and administering permits for any work within the right-of-way, such as driveways, other road approaches, and utility installations.

Local Access Roads
Local access roads are also public roads, but they have not been accepted into Josephine County's maintained road system or any other agency's road system (state or federal). Josephine County does not exercise its jurisdiction within the right-of-way of local access roads, except for its rights to merchantable timber which may be located therein. The County Public Works Department will not set standards or specifications for any road work done by individuals; nor will it administer permits for driveways, road approaches, utility installations, or install signs in the right-of-way of any local access roads. Any problems that arise between property owners on local access roads are civil matters which must be resolved by the owners.

There are three kinds of local access roads:
- Deeded/Dedicated (Non-Maintained) Roads have a right-of-way that has been deeded or dedicated to the general public, however, there is no responsibility upon any person(s) or agency to maintain the traveled roadway. Historically, by default, local landowners have taken primary responsibility for maintenance of these roads.

- Restricted Residential Roads have a right-of-way that has been dedicated to the general public. Additionally, there is a formal maintenance agreement among all the property owners who have a driveway off the road or are otherwise served by it. This owner maintenance agreement is stipulated in the public record when the right-of-way was originally created.

- Court Declared Public Roads have a right-of-way that has been declared open to the general public by a judge in a court of law. Generally, these roads result from court cases in which someone claims a legal right to an existing traveled roadway where no right-of-way exists as a matter of public record. Usually, the court does not establish maintenance responsibilities and the right-of-way width typically is limited to the width of the existing physical roadbed.

Other types of roads
Other types of roads serving property in Josephine County include federal forest roads and private roads. Josephine County does not have any jurisdiction over these roads. You need to contact the appropriate agency (Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service) or the private landowner(s) for information about these roads. They may not be open for travel and use by the general public.

How can I find out my road's status?
Call the Public Works Department at (541) 474-5460 for road status information. Usually, we can tell you from our road status records inventory if a road is a county road, state highway, city street, local access road, or private road. It may be difficult for us to give an immediate definite answer for many unimproved roads without further research. If this is the case, we will return a call to you after a determination is made.

I live on a county road within a city. Why isn't my street a city street?
When land is annexed to a city, the jurisdiction for many government services becomes the city's. However, roads and streets are an exception. County roads do not automatically become city streets upon annexation. The city must formally accept the street as part of its system by a separate formal action of their council.

Can I obtain possession of unused right-of-way on my property?
Possibly you can. This must be done by having the County formally vacate the road as part of the County road system (or as a local access road). To vacate a public road right-of-way, the Board of County Commissioners must find that there is no public need for the given right-of-way, and that no owner's access to property would be cut off due to the vacation. Costs for the County to process a vacation are the responsibility of the involved private property owners.

Can local access roads become county roads?
If a local access road can be brought to county road standards for right-of-way width, rock base, roadway surface, drainage, etc., it can then be accepted by the County and thereafter maintained by the County. The owners can hire their own engineer and contractor for this work, or the County may do it as part of a local improvement district. In either case the County must approve the road as meeting county road standards. In addition, the cost to bring the road up to county standards is the responsibility of the benefiting property owners.

Who maintains local access roads?
People who live on the road are responsible for its maintenance. For the restricted residential type of local access road, maintenance is done through a formal agreement of the property owners. The County is not responsible for any maintenance of the road and will not perform any such work.

How does a road status change?
Someone must petition the Board of County Commissioners for a change in status. The Commissioners may change a road's status after a public hearing and proper notice to surrounding property owners who may be affected by the change. This could be to change a county road to a local access road or to a private road; or to change a local access road to a county road. Changing a local access road to a county road typically involves a process known as a local improvement district, in which the owners assume responsibility for the cost of improvements to bring the road to county standards.

Why are there so many different kinds of roads?
Primarily, to determine who maintains the road - state, county, city, or local property owners. State highways, county roads, and city streets are under the legal jurisdiction of the respective public agency. Each agency performs road construction, reconstruction, maintenance, places traffic control devices, markings and signs, and performs such other work necessary to protect the public's safety and welfare.

The road status also affects who must be contacted about permits for any action or work in the right-of-way. Each public agency requires a permit prior to any type of work being done within the right-of-way of a road under their jurisdiction. A public road exists to allow public travel, thus gates or other blockages are generally not permitted.

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