Is there a process for passing maintenance of/ responsibility for a public road from a county to a city? Do certain roads automatically become the responsibility of a city when it incorporates or annexes new areas?
These questions came up when I was researching whether my county accepted maintenance of an old FM road after the state relocated the road. In the 70s, the county, city, and local university asked the state to relocated an FM road that went through the center of campus. After relocating the road, the state issued a minute order relinquishing their rights to the road. Minute orders only become effective if approved by the county within 90 days. The county never approved the minute order. We have no record of even receiving the minute order. The county has never adopted any part of the old FM road into its county maintenance log. Since the 80s, there have been several interlocal agreements between the city and the county for road repairs. The county has only worked on the road at the request of the city and pursuant to an interlocal. The road was badly damaged in 2 floods last year and has been impassable for a year, so now everyone is trying to figure out who needs to repair it. The university, state, city, and county all claim the road is not theirs. The road is arguably within the city limits (hotly debated topic). This brought up the 2 questions above for other roads that should probably be city roads. There are a few roads (portions of a few roads) that the county maintains (some after formal adoption of the road, some just because we were too nice and started maintaining them decades ago) that are within a city's corporate limits that we'd like to pass to the city.
I'll take a stab at it.
My first question is, was this ever a county road? It was in state possession, the state relinquished their rights BUT the minute order was not approved. It looks as though all county work on the road was subsequent to an interlocal agreement which presumably made no statement with regard to ownership.
Realizing that there can be public roads which are not maintained by any government, I would have to ask if this is not one of those? Open to public travel, but not considered to be part of any city, county or state network. (Not sure how the university fits into road law...!)
As a general rule, a county has no authority over roadways within the limits of a city. It may not pass rules with regard to speed or traffic control devices in that jurisdiction, and is not responsible for maintenance of roads in an incorporated city.
We use an interlocal agreement which lets us help maintain city roads without accepting responsibility for them. It sounds to me as though it is time for a planning meeting between city and county (with an attorney or two thrown in) to hammer out a new interlocal for this destroyed road and for the other roads / portions which are in dispute.
Lisa L. Peterson
Nolan County Attorney
Let's see...was it ever a county road? My position is no. We never adopted it, and we only repaired it pursuant to city requests. In fact, 16+ years ago the commissioners court considered adopting the road along with 2 others, but the motion and second were withdrawn. (I'm not sure if they considered whether it was in the city limits at the time.) The interlocals don't specifically say the road belongs to the city. They're more general, saying the county will work on city roads or roads within the city. Some of the old ones expired automatically by their terms, but the county and city continued to operate as though they were in effect until a new interlocal was passed.
I'm just amazed at how easily the state can relinquish their rights and responsibilities for a road, especially compared to the hoops counties have to jump through to do the same. The state hasn't gotten back to us about their position, but they seem to be of the opinion that the minute order relinquished their rights even if it wasn't accepted by the county. It seems wrong that the state could give up a road and let it fall into a void where no government maintains it.
I always thought public roads that weren't maintained by any government were roads that became public through continued public use of the road (and were never adopted by a government). And I guess public roads a county formally discontinues (and whatever the equivalent is for other governments). Am I missing other roads that can be public without a government maintaining them?
There are a few portions of roads in city limits that the county has been maintaining and acting as though they are county roads (on the county map and road list), but that the commissioners court never adopted. I emphasized to our road and bridge department that our authority over roads is limited to unincorporated areas, but the roads haven't been changed on the map and list. I'm hoping we can stop maintaining those and take them of the county road map and list. (Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.)
We're revising all of our road interlocals with all of the local cities. We had a meeting to figure out a solution to this road, but it was...less than ideal. There were several suggestions: close the road permanently (but someone has to accept it to have authority to close it, and the city and university want the road open), tear up the road (same issues as with closing it), split ownership half-way down the road (city engineer also suggested splitting down the center line, both nonstarters- the county isn't accepting the road), etc. The city wouldn't accept it going forward, even though the road is less than 3/4 of a mile long and provides the only access to one of their water treatment facilities. The county proposed an interlocal with the city to split repair costs 50/50 with no one accepting responsibility for the road, but the city didn't pass it because they were afraid of how much repairs might cost. The city seems unwilling to accept maintenance of ANY roads, even ones they admit are in their city limits.
Maybe an overly simplistic approach but......If the County wants to absolve itself without much controversy and hassle, why not simply have the court vote to abandon the road up to, and including, whatever interest the County may hold(if any)?
Let the other interested entities figure it out!This message has been edited. Last edited by: mhartman,
As to the ability of the State to relinquish...as Mr. Bromley has stated at other times "It's nice to be the King!"
Representing the county, I would tell the city that the roads are presumptively theirs, unless they can show that we affirmatively accepted them. That fits more tidily into the general premise that cities can do pretty much whatever they want inside their jurisdiction, and we are more limited.
Lisa L. Peterson
Nolan County Attorney
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