County Road, Public Usage Road, Local Access Road

Scene of County Road


There is a common misunderstanding about the difference between “County Roads”, “Public Usage Roads”, “Local Access Roads”, and other private roads that developers and others construct. The following may help to clarify the difference, and answer some frequently asked questions.


County Roads are those roads designated as a “County Road” by the Jefferson County Board of County Commissioners which gives the Public Works Department the responsibility for maintenance.  Unless the Board of Commissioners specifically designates the road as a County Road, the road is classed as a “Local Access Road”, or just a “Road” by definition in the Oregon Revised Statues.  As developers construct new roads in subdivisions or partitions, the plat typically dedicates the right of way as a public road and the County accepts these roads for use by the public.  Most often, these roads are not designated as a “County Road” and therefore, they remain classified as a “Local Access Road”.


ORS 368.031 specifically states that the County can only spend moneys on these types of roads if specific conditions are met.  The Public Works Department by law cannot spend funds on these roads in the same manner as for “County Roads”.  Because the current County Roads are in such poor condition due to insufficient funding for improvements, the County has not accepted more roads into the system for decades. 


Even though the County has accepted the construction of a public road in a subdivision, the Public Works Road Department has no responsibility for maintenance of the road unless the Board of Commissioners specifically designates the road as a “County Road”.  If this specific terminology is not used in the acceptance by the County, the road remains classified as a “Local Access Road” and will not be maintained by the Public Works Department.


Local Access Roads:


A local access road or LAR is a road that the public has the right to use, is under County jurisdiction, but is not maintained by Jefferson County or any other government agency.  Many roads within rural subdivisions in Jefferson County are LARs.  Prior to the creation of land use laws in the 1970s, developers of land were free to build whatever type of road they wanted.  In many cases, roads were roughed in with a bulldozer and minimally surfaced with a thin layer of cinders or gravel.  These roads were dedicated for public use through subdivision platting, but since they were not built to County standards, they were not accepted by Jefferson County as county maintained facilities.  The developers were aware of the fact that if their subdivision roads were not built to County standards, maintenance of these roads would be the responsibility of the land owners along the LARs.


In some cases developers went to the extra expense of building and paving the subdivision roads to County Road standards and, after inspection and approval by the County, the roads were designated as County maintained roads.


There are many miles of LARs in Jefferson County.


Due to the fiscal burden that would be placed on county road departments to maintain significant mileage of sub-standard road construction, state law restricts the ability of counties to spend road funds (fuel tax and DMV fee revenue) on LARs.  State law also restricts the ability of counties to spend property taxes on road maintenance; Jefferson County does not use property tax revenue to improve or maintain county roads.  



How are Local Access Roads maintained?


LARs are typically maintained by adjacent property owners and road users by obtaining a permit to work in the right of way, then the work usually occurs in one of three ways:


  1. Informally:  In which neighbors work together to hire a contractor or self-perform maintenance and “pass-the-hat” to share in the cost.
  2. Formally:  Through home owners associations (HOAs) or other formal agreements to share in the cost of maintenance.
  3. Special Road Districts:  In which area residents vote to establish a district which levies a property tax to fund maintenance.  Jefferson County has 4 Special Road Districts – Crooked River Ranch, Road District #18 Camp Sherman, Juniper Butte Road District, and Canyon View Special Road District.

By observation, all three methods work well in some areas and not very well in other areas depending upon a variety of factors.


Other Frequently Asked Questions and Talking Points:


  1. I pay taxes and receive no service from Jefferson County.


Jefferson County does not utilize property tax to fund transportation maintenance improvements as that practice is restricted by State law.  Regarding gas tax, the State currently charges 34-cents per gallon (and various DMV fees) to fund the transportation system.  The State distributes the gas tax revenue in a 50-30-20 proportion in which the State keeps 50% to fund the state system, the counties receive 30% to fund the county system, and cities receive 20% to fund the city systems. 


When customers pay the gas tax, they don’t individually fund the transportation jurisdiction in which they live, they fund the entire system of state highways, county roads and city streets.  Everyone pays the same rate, whether or not they live in a city or the unincorporated areas.  If you are paying a gas tax, chances are you are driving on the system that is being maintained with gas tax funds.


  1. Why can’t the County maintain my gravel road (LAR)?


Due to the fiscal burden that would be placed on county road departments to maintain significant mileage of sub-standard road construction, state law restricts the ability of counties to spend road funds (fuel tax and DMV fee revenue) on LARs.  If we add gravel, grade, or plow one mile we would be obligated to provide that same service to all of the other LARs in the County.


  1. How come the County maintains some gravel roads but not others?


The County has approximately 214 miles of gravel road that are established County roads and accepted for maintenance.  Most of these miles were gravel when Jefferson County was established in 1914 and had previously been accepted for maintenance, with gravel surfacing, when Jefferson County was a part of Crook County.  Current LARs have never been accepted by Jefferson County for maintenance. 


  1. Not everyone contributes to help maintain my Local Access Road.


This is the biggest downside of living on a LAR.  Some neighbors have different opinions on levels of road maintenance and some choose not to pay for other reasons.  This is where good neighborhood relations and communication pays dividends.  There are many examples of where this is taking place in Jefferson County.


  1. We have public traffic on our LAR that accesses public land.


Living next to public land has positive and negative impacts to quality of life.  The attraction of the public to public land is one of the negative consequences.  Use of public roads, like LARs, to access public land is a logical and predictable occurrence and therefore something that property owners should factor into their decision to purchase property when conducting due diligence.  Similarly, road maintenance costs associated with unmaintained LARs should also factor into the decision to purchase property.  Most LARs have been in existence for many decades as have the public lands they may serve. 




Oregon Revised Statutes Chapter 368, County Roads:


      368.001 Definitions. As used in this chapter:


      (1) “County road” means a public road under the jurisdiction of a county that has been designated as a county road under ORS 368.016.


      (2) “County road official” means the roadmaster, engineer, road supervisor, public works director or other administrative officer designated by the county governing body as being responsible for administration of the road activities of the county.


      (3) “Local access road” means a public road that is not a county road, state highway or federal road.


      (4) “Owner” means a vendee under a recorded land sale contract or, if there is no recorded land sale contract, the holder of the record title of land if the vendee or holder has a present interest equal to or greater than a life estate.


      (5) “Public road” means a road over which the public has a right of use that is a matter of public record.


      (6) “Road” means the entire right of way of any public or private way that provides ingress to or egress from property by means of vehicles or other means or that provides travel between places by means of vehicles. “Road” includes, but is not limited to:


      (a) Ways described as streets, highways, throughways or alleys;


      (b) Road related structures that are in the right of way such as tunnels, culverts or similar structures; and


      (c) Structures that provide for continuity of the right of way such as bridges. [1981 c.153 §2]


      368.005 [Amended by 1971 c.135 §1; repealed by 1981 c.153 §79]

      368.010 [Amended by 1963 c.501 §1; repealed by 1981 c.153 §79]


       368.011 County authority to supersede statutes; limitations. (1) Except as otherwise provided in this section, a county may supersede any provision in this chapter by enacting an ordinance pursuant to the charter of the county or under powers granted the county in ORS 203.030 to 203.075.


      (2) A county may not enact an ordinance to supersede a provision of this section or ORS 368.001, 368.016, 368.021, 368.026, 368.031, 368.051, 368.705, 368.710, 368.720 or 368.722. [1981 c.153 §3; 2007 c.679 §3]


      368.016 County authority over roads; limitations. (1) Except as provided in this section or as otherwise specifically provided by law, the exercise of governmental powers relating to a road within a county is a matter of county concern.


      (2) A county governing body:


      (a) Does not have jurisdiction over any public road that is a state highway.


      (b) Shall only take action involving a local access road within a city if the city governing body consents to the action.


      (c) May by resolution or order make any public road within its jurisdiction a county road.


      (3) Any road that has a classification as a county road on November 1, 1981, shall retain that classification unless the classification is changed under ORS 368.026 or as otherwise provided by law.


      (4) A county governing body may seek assistance from the Department of Transportation as provided under ORS 366.155. [1981 c.153 §4; 1993 c.741 §44]


      368.021 County authority over trails. (1) A county governing body has the same jurisdiction over trails as it has over local access roads.


      (2) This section applies to trails that:


      (a) Are easements over land or by watercourse that are not part of a road right of way;


      (b) Provide certain forms of ingress to or egress from land or water or permit travel between places;


      (c) Do not provide vehicle access of the type provided by a road; and


      (d) Are not under the jurisdiction of a state or federal agency. [1981 c.153 §5]


      368.026 Withdrawal of county road status; report; notice; hearing. (1) A county governing body shall use the following procedure to withdraw county road status from a portion of a county road that is outside a city:


      (a) The county governing body may initiate proceedings by having the county road official prepare a report stating reasons for the proposed withdrawal and the effects the proposed withdrawal may have on land abutting the county road proposed to be withdrawn.

      (b) The county governing body shall fix a date for a hearing on the withdrawal.


      (c) The county governing body shall provide for notice of the hearing on the proposed withdrawal to be served on owners of land abutting the portion of county road proposed to be withdrawn. Notice shall be served in the manner provided under ORS 368.401 to 368.426.


      (d) Any interested person shall have access to the report prepared by the county road official under this section from a day not less than 20 days prior to the date of hearing.


      (e) At the hearing, the county governing body shall accept the report of the county road official prepared under this section and shall accept testimony from persons favoring or objecting to the proposed withdrawal.


      (f) After completion of the procedures under this section, the county governing body may retain the portion of county road as a county road or may by order or resolution declare county road status withdrawn from all or part of the portion of the road under consideration.


      (2) The withdrawal of county road status from any county road that is within a city is subject to ORS 373.270.


      (3) If a county governing body withdraws county road status from a portion of a county road, the road shall continue to be a public road. [1981 c.153 §6]


      368.031 County jurisdiction over local access roads. A local access road that is outside a city is subject to the exercise of jurisdiction by a county governing body in the same manner as a county road except as follows:


      (1) A county and its officers, employees or agents are not liable for failure to improve the local access road or keep it in repair.


      (2) A county governing body shall spend county moneys on the local access road only if it determines that the work is an emergency or if:


      (a) The county road official recommends the expenditure;


      (b) The public use of the road justifies the expenditure proposed; and

(c) The county governing body enacts an order or resolution authorizing the work and designating the work to be either a single project or a continuing program. [1981 c.153 §7]