Road Maintenance: Who is Responsible?

As those of us in the eastern region of North Carolina recover from Hurricane Matthew and assess the damage to our property, we may find the roads in and out of our homes need substantial repair in order to traverse the roadways.  The question of who is responsible for repairing the roads may be more significant and urgent now.  

It’s easy to determine the major roadways due to the interstate signs and state road signs that we all had to learn in driver’s education, and, as a general rule, we may even be able to determine public and private roadways due to the color of the signs. But who is responsible for those roads that have not clearly been taken over by a municipality?

The general rule is if there is not an agreement in place then the adjacent property owners are responsible for the costs of repair.  In counties across North Carolina, the absence of private road maintenance agreements have cost individual property owners thousands of dollars to make their roads passable not only for private vehicles but also for school buses and emergency vehicles.  Imagine having a life threatening event and the ambulance cannot drive down the road to transport you or a loved one.  This is a real problem throughout the state that many property owners must address.

Unfortunately, there is no statewide database to determine whether a road is part of the state or local system or whether it is a private road to be maintained by the owners.  A common problem that occurs is when a developer has filed a plat to start a new development, and the plat shows the roads are to be public roads.  Just because a land owner has dedicated the road for public use does not mean the state or municipality is going to accept the road into the public system.  The road must meet the required standards before being brought into the public system.  For example, if a developer has not built the road to standard and does not complete the subdivision or doesn’t do anything to bring the road to standard, then the road remains a private road.  Since there is a plat dedication that says the roads of the subdivision are to be public right of ways, there is a good chance there is not a private road maintenance agreement in place.  Even if there is a recorded document that states the developer is responsible for the road maintenance, if the developer goes out of business then the developer’s letter isn’t worth the fee it cost to record it.  The cost of maintenance and repair would fall back on the subdivision property owners.  Now a municipality may agree to repair the road and bring it into the public road system, but at a cost divided among the homeowners to be paid back.

The situation has been studied to see if there are certain requirements that must be met to establish performance or guaranty of a project. Legislation has been drafted in the state senate but has not passed into law.  Hopefully, the road maintenance issues will be addressed by the General Assembly’s 2017 session.

Published by Christopher T. Salyer on December 1, 2016