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What Is a Road Right-of-Way?


A road right-of-way is a line that bounds usually both sides of a road and that represents an area of land that is reserved by a governing entity for the maintenance of the road and for the potential future expansion of that road.

The road right-of-way line is many times created by offsetting a line a certain distance from the centerline of the road for both sides of the road. For example, a road with a 100-foot right-of-way would show two parallel lines on both sides of the road that are spaced 100 feet apart with the centerline of the road in the middle of those lines.

Some right-of-way lines will coincide with the front property boundary of a lot and some right-of-way lines will extend past this boundary and into the site.

The Types of Road Right-of-Way

There are a couple types of right-of-way areas. There are the right-of-way areas that are reserved by the local municipality and there are the right-of-way areas that are reserved by a state department of transportation.

You should also keep in mind that there are both existing right-of-way areas for existing roads and proposed right-of-way areas for proposed roads. A new land development project might even require an existing right-of-way to be increased.

Why Knowing the Road Right-of-Way Is Important

Knowing about any existing road right-of-way areas or any required proposed right-of-way areas is important because this information could impact that proposed layout of your new project and whether or not your proposed layout could work.

The main effect that a road right-of-way area has on a land development project is how it impacts the front yard setback lines for any lots along that road.

When creating the front yard setback line for a lot where a road right-of-way line extends farther from the edge of the road than the front lot boundary line, the front yard setback line would probably have to be offset the required amount from the road right-of-way line.

How to Determine a Road Right-of-Way

Existing road right-of-way information can be obtained from existing land development plans for properties next to or near your site. Existing road right-of-way information could be obtained also from state department of transportation plans.

Requirements for proposed road right-of-way information would have to be obtained from the applicable ordinance of the governing municipality.

How a Road Right-of-Way Is Shown on Plans

A road right-of-way area is usually shown on plans with specialized dashed lines with a labeled dimension line for the right-of-way width between the lines. The actual right-of-way label could be under the dimension label or it might be shown along the right-of-way line.

A Critical Piece of the Land Development Process

Road right-of-way information is a critical piece of the overall land development process because it is required to be able to determine the building envelope for a proposed layout.

Care should be taken by the land surveyor and the civil engineer responsible for your project to accurately include the correct right-of-way information in your plans.

Related: Recommendations for Land Development Books

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Posted in Surveying

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