Public roads in Washtenaw County are located on either an easement or deed interest in real estate, both of which are commonly referred to as the right of way.   These strips or corridors of real estate intersect to create our road network.  The right of way varies in width; a typical rural right-of-way is sixty-six (66’) feet wide whereas the urban primary roads typically have a width of one hundred twenty (120’) feet wide or greater.

Road rights-of-way are necessary for the operation, maintenance, and construction of our public roads. State law allows public utilities, including water/sewer, electricity, gas and telecommunication companies, etc. to locate their facilities within the public right-of-way under permit from the Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC).  The shared use of the right-of-way can become congested and create conflict when non-permitted work is done without first obtaining a permit.

Any work proposed within the public road right-of-way, whether by an individual, property owner, or utility requires a permit.  Examples of commonly permitted activities by residents include adding a driveway, replacing a culvert, modifying drainage, grading or even tree removal.  Non-permitted work or encroachments (private improvements) within the road right-of-way can create a safety hazard and are strictly prohibited. If deemed a hazard to the motoring public, WCRC has the right to immediately remove the hazard from the right-of-way and assess the property owner for the cost to remove the hazard.  If you have questions or would like to apply for a permit, please visit our Permits page.

How can I determine a road’s right-of-way width?

There is no standard width for all roads in Washtenaw County.  While rural roads and some subdivision streets may be 66 feet wide, collector roads may be 86 feet wide while major roads can be 120 feet wide or greater. WCRC staff is available to advise how individuals can determine the width of the right-of-way at specific locations.  Individuals may also inquire at municipal offices, the Register of Deeds, or consult with a licensed land surveyor or attorney.

Due to the research effort and limited resources available, WCRC staff are unable to provide residents a precise location of the right-of-way.  Residents should employ the services of a licensed land surveyor to determine the right-of-way limits and property boundaries.

Can WCRC remove objects located within the road right-of-way?

Yes. WCRC reserves the right to remove non-permitted items placed or constructed within the road right-of-way at the owner’s expense. Examples include non-compliant mailboxes, sprinkler systems, landscaping, trees, vegetation, rocks, yard signs, parking and illicit culverts.  These items can create a hazard within the clear zone or impede WCRC’s maintenance operations.  In addition, utility companies may remove these items without the responsibility to replace or compensate.

Are there rules about mailboxes within the road right-of-way?

Yes. Mailboxes are allowed within the road right-of-way without a permit, but they must conform to USPS and WCRC requirements.  No more than two boxes are permitted on a single post and must be installed in a manner that minimizes any traffic hazard.  Brick mailboxes are prohibited on public roads with very few exceptions. To learn more about mailboxes, please visit our Mailboxes FAQ.

Can I plant trees or flowers along the road?

Trees, landscaping, and underground sprinkler systems should be placed outside of the road right-of-way.  In addition to regular maintenance activities by WCRC, utility companies often have facilities in the right-of-way.  Utilities are not required to replace or compensate for damage to landscaping in the road right-of-way.

Only low growing vegetation is acceptable in the road right-of-way, as to not impede visibility or create a hazard.  Before planting trees or flowers near the roadway, please determine the road’s right-of-way.

Rocks, trees and other fixed objects can be a hazard to the traveling public, maintenance/emergency response vehicles and may be a potential liability for the property owner.  Those items placed in the right-of-way that create a potential hazard are considered encroachments and are subject to removal by WCRC at the expense of the owner.

What is a right-of-way acquisition?

Right-of-way acquisition is the act of WCRC staff to acquire any property rights necessary to expand, construct or rehabilitate any road, bridge or drainage structure. The acquisition may include securing various easements, deeds or permits from various types of property owners.  Often the acquisitions are to obtain only a portion of the property. However, in rare instances, the entire property must be acquired and the occupants relocated into similar properties if available.

Acquisitions are completed following procedures required in Act 87 of 1980, referred to as the Uniform Condemnation Procedures Act (UCPA) which is a state statute and the federal statute Uniform Relocation Assistance and the Real Property Acquisition Policy Act of 1970 (Uniform Act).  These laws establish many protections and benefits for property owners including the right to receive just compensation, the right to an appraisal, and assistance throughout the relocation process.

If you have additional questions please contact Curt Brochue, WCRC’s right-of-way specialist, [email protected].

What is a right-of-way encroachment?

Encroachments are private improvements within the road right-of-way. Encroachments that create a safety hazard are strictly prohibited. If deemed a hazard to the motoring public, WCRC has the right to immediately remove the hazard from the right-of-way and assess the property owner for the cost of removal.

What is a right of way easement?

An easement is the right to do something on land owned by another.  A public road right of way easement is generally the right to cross over property, which includes utilities.  The right of way easement may be granted by the owner, dedicated by subdivision plat, implied by use or effective by law.  Often site developers donate road right of way to mitigate the burden on our public roads while improving access to their sites. As part of a site improvement, the property owner may be asked to donate new or additional right of way to the Washtenaw County Board of Road Commissioners.

Staff review documents submitted for these dedications. The Washtenaw County Road Commission has the following standards for submittal of the legal description and accompanying survey drawing. Click here to read Right of Way Drawing Standards.