Closing County Roads in Missouri

Nov 7, 2013 by

Missouri county roads are the lifeline of the local community in many ways. They allow goods and merchandise to be transported to and from the local residents and businesses. They also provide avenues that help connect friends and family for weekend visits and holidays. And they provide the daily backbone of travel to and from work and entertainment that brings together our homes with the outside world.

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County roads also place a large responsibility on the local government to manage and maintain often hundreds of miles of paved, gravel or dirt roads. Occasionally, those roads that best suited one generation become less important, or even and unnecessary burden years later. County roads that fall out of public use can be vacated, or released from government control in two ways. The Missouri statutes provide a formal process to vacate a county road (RSMO § 228.110), as well as the option to vacate a road simply through non-use (RSMO § 228.190).

The more formal process begins when twelve local citizens petition the County Commission to order that the road be vacated. The petition must be presented and read by the commission on the first day of the term, which may be the first Monday in January, April, July or October. Notice of the petition must be posted in three public places for a period of twenty days, and all persons whose lands are crossed or touched by the road must be served with a copy of the petition. Finally, the petition must be read again on the first day of the next term of the County Commission, and this reading is generally followed by a hearing held by the commission.

This process is designed to give landowners, and others interested in using the county road, an opportunity to be heard and participate in the decision making process. Because closing a road can have significant effects upon those whose land borders the road, they must receive direct notice through service of a petition. Others may learn of the request by reading the notices posted in public places. Those who may disagree with the vacation of the roadway should have an opportunity to protest and be a part of the discussion before the County Commission.

The second method for vacating a roadway is based upon the failure of the public to use the roadway. When a county road has been abandoned for an extended period of time, the law presumes that the road is no longer a public roadway. In the State of Missouri, this period must be no less than five years. However, the abandonment by the public must be clear, and even infrequent or intermittent use by members of the public is sufficient to defeat a claim of abandonment. The state law has a strong presumption against abandonment of public roadways, so the petitioner has a heavy burden in showing that the county road has been abandoned. However, if abandonment can be proven, there is no need for a formal petition to be heard by the County Commission.

Roadways are a vital asset of the community. But, for neighboring property owners, and for the citizens that pay taxes, roads that are rarely used or poorly maintained do little to assist anyone. The laws of the State of Missouri allow such roads to be closed and for the land to revert back to the appropriate landowners when it is clear that the road will no longer be used for public use.

 

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