This is part 4 of an installment series chronicling my discussions with the county regarding a neighborhood road that is not maintained. See the beginning post for more background information.
When speaking with my neighbors recently, I’ve learned that the majority of them believed that the road that we access is a “private” driveway, with all property owners dedicating an easement for access through to their home. Being in the industry, I’ve seen many maps of the area, and have seen that our road appears to me to be an actual road – not an easement, which shows differently on the plat and tax records than what an easement appears like (which usually doesn’t show at all on maps).
This morning I decided to spend some time investigating the issue. The questions I had for the county: do we live on a private road or public? And are they supposed to maintain it?
The country transportation department was very helpful and looked back at our historical records. It appears that at one time, we had simple easements. However, in 1976 there was a major subdivision, and the property owners dedicated portions of their property as public roadways. So indeed our road is public.
However, our road is not accepted into the county system and therefore not maintained. To help explain this, a little information about the county road system: there are three county road designations: county, public, and private. The county roads are solely funded by gas taxes, and they prohibit funding on anything but county accepted roads. And the county will not accept the road if it is not in certain conditions.
When I inquired about those conditions he said that the biggest is not currently having the road paved. I inquired about grade, and he said that usually isn’t as much an issue. The other major issues that they look at are width (he believes you have to be able to have two cars to be able to fit through) and adequate drainage.
The cost to bring the road up to county standards sounds as if it will be considerable. However, he did mention that once it is brought up to county standards, the county would then be responsible for sanding and plowing.
The county person on the phone told me the story of a road near us called Mint Lake, which is incredibly coincidental as I was just over there a handful of days ago looking at a potential listing. When I went down there, I was struck by how beautiful the roads were. He told me that this road was actually gravel just three years ago, but all of the property owners decided that they wanted to begin having it maintained by the county, so they paid to pave it and it is now accepted into the county maintenance system.
Without having the road up to current county conditions, the responsibility lies with each property owner that accesses the road to maintain it. There are state laws to such effect, and he thought they were located in chapter ORS 105, but after cursory view I didn’t see them and it will require more digging. However, he said even with road agreements in place and the state laws, it is traditionally still an issue to get everyone on board with paying. He said he believes the only remedy that exists would be court (in this case, likely small claims court).
Another note that I was not aware of: since it is a public road, any work done to the road by us private property owners does require permits. This includes installing culverts and running a grader. it sounds as if the cost is minimal, and he said that there would be some protection against property owners who are upset about work being done. ALSO the permit process looks at whether or not any underground utilities could be damaged.
Of note during the conversation: any new “public” road must have a written and enforced road agreement put in place.
I’ll be speaking with our neighbors to find out if they would like to pursue finding out information on bringing the road to county standards, and will update again when I find more information.