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Who Owns the Road, the Street, the Highway?

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We sometimes get this type of question:
Where can I find the laws governing the allowed size (height, weight, length, etc.) of trucks using the roads and streets in the county (or city or state)?
Imagine when there were no roads (how old are you!?), when there were only a few roads, when roads weren’t paved, when the people who owned the road could charge you any toll to allow you to pass – or not allow you to pass at all, remember, imagine ….  When either no one had jurisdiction over the roadways (and you lost a lot of wheels and limbs and livestock and horses) or when only private owners did and disputes were resolved in court, by handshake, or by gunfire.We now have laws (as if you didn’t already know that!) about those roads, many of which are public, so:
The answer to “Who Owns the Road?” will depend in part on who has jurisdiction over that specific road.
1) I would start with the jurisdiction’s code, e.g. a city or county code
2) For example, if it is a road over which Washington County has jurisdiction, or the State of Oregon, you might look at the Washington County Code or call the Washington County Land Use & Transportation department to find out if they or the state has jurisdiction.
3) If it is possible that the road is privately owned, you’ll want to check property records to find out who the owner is.  You can find out that at the Washington County Assessor’s office.
4) There may also be general state statutes that apply to how a road is used.  You would find those in the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS).
5) Sometimes cities and states have interstate highways going through their borders; if so, you would also need to look at federal statutes and regulations.
Good luck with your research – and happy trails!
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2 responses to “Who Owns the Road, the Street, the Highway?”

  1. Steven A. Todd says:

    Here's a logical place to start:       810.010 Jurisdiction over highways;
    Sometimes these questions can be tricky to answer, since ODOT and local authorities can agree to “share” responsibility for particular roadways. Some people get confused by the term “highway”; that includes streets, not just freeways. § 801.305¹
    “Highway”
    (1) “Highway” means every public way, road, street, thoroughfare and place, including bridges, viaducts and other structures within the boundaries of this state, open, used or intended for use of the general public for vehicles or vehicular traffic as a matter of right.

  2. Laura says:

    Thanks, Steve: That is an excellent place to begin. Laura

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