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NO. 178.  AN ACT RELATING TO UNIDENTIFIED CORRIDORS.

(H.701)

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1.  19 V.S.A. § 302 is amended to read:

§ 302.  CLASSIFICATION OF TOWN HIGHWAYS

(a)  For the purposes of this section and receiving state aid, all town highways shall be categorized into one or another of the following classes:

(1)  Class 1 town highways are those town highways which form the extension of a state highway route and which carry a state highway route number.  The agency shall determine which highways are to be class 1 highways.

(2)  Class 2 town highways are those town highways selected as the most important highways in each town.  As far as practicable they shall be selected with the purposes of securing trunk lines of improved highways from town to town and to places which by their nature have more than normal amount of traffic.  The selectmen, with the approval of the agency, shall determine which highways are to be class 2 highways.

(3)  Class 3 town highways:

(A)  Class 3 town highways are all traveled town highways other than class 1 or 2 highways.  The selectmen, after conference with a representative of the agency shall determine which highways are class 3 town highways.

(B)  The minimum standards for class 3 highways are a highway negotiable under normal conditions all seasons of the year by a standard manufactured pleasure car.  This would include but not be limited to sufficient surface and base, adequate drainage, and sufficient width capable to provide winter maintenance, except that based on safety considerations for the traveling public and municipal employees, the selectboard shall, by rule adopted under 24 V.S.A. chapter 59, and after following the process for providing notice and hearing in section 709 of this title, have authority to determine whether a class 3 highway, or section of highway, should be plowed and made negotiable during the winter.  However, a property owner aggrieved by a decision of the selectboard may appeal to the transportation board pursuant to subdivision 5(d)(8) of this title.

(C)  A highway not meeting these standards may be reclassified as a provisional class 3 highway if within five years of the determination, it will meet all class 3 highway standards.

(4)  Class 4 town highways are all other town highways that are not class 1, 2, or 3 town highways or unidentified corridors.  The selectmen selectboard shall determine which highways are class 4 town highways.

(5)  Trails shall not be considered highways and the town shall not be responsible for any maintenance including culverts and bridges.

(6)  Unidentified corridors.

(A)  Unidentified corridors are town highways that:

(i)  have been laid out as highways by proper authority through the process provided by law at the time they were created or by dedication and acceptance; and

(ii)  do not, as of July 1, 2009, appear on the town highway map prepared pursuant to section 305 of this title; and

(iii)  are not otherwise clearly observable by physical evidence of their use as a highway or trail; and

(iv)  are not legal trails.

(B)  If the conditions in subdivisions (A)(i) and (A)(ii) of this subdivision (6) are met, the legislative body of a municipality or its appointee may, after providing 14 days’ advance written notice to the owners of the land upon which the unidentified corridor is located, enter private property to determine whether clearly observable physical evidence exists.

(C)  Unidentified corridors shall be open to use by the public, but only in the same manner as they were used during the 10 years prior to January 1, 2006.

(D)  A municipality shall not be responsible for maintenance of an unidentified corridor.

(E)  Neither the municipality nor any person owning a legal interest in land through which an unidentified corridor may pass or abut shall have a duty of care to persons using the corridor.

(F)  An unidentified corridor shall not be deemed to be a subdivision with respect to zoning, tax, and septic issues.

(G)  After July 1, 2015, an unidentified corridor shall be discontinued, and the right-of-way shall belong to the owner of the adjoining land.  If the right-of-way is located between the lands of two different owners, it shall be returned to the lots to which it originally belonged, if they can be determined; if not, it shall be equally divided between the owners of the lands on each side.

(H)  An unidentified corridor shall not create a subdivision with respect to zoning, tax, and septic issues.  If the unidentified corridor is reclassified as a class 1, 2, 3, or 4 highway or as a trail, the then- highway or trail shall be recognized as any other highway or trail for the purpose of creating a subdivision with respect to zoning, tax, and septic issues. 

(7)  Reclassification of unidentified corridors.  On or by July 1, 2015 and pursuant to subchapter 2 of chapter 7 of this title, an unidentified corridor may be reclassified as a class 1, 2, 3, or 4 highway or as a trail. 

(b)  The agency may require any municipality which fails to comply with the class 3 provisional commitments to return all state aid generated by the section or sections of highways involved.


Sec. 2.  19 V.S.A. § 305 is amended to read:

§ 305.  MEASUREMENT AND INSPECTION

(a)  After reasonable notice to the selectboard, a representative of the agency may measure and inspect the class 1, 2, and 3 town highways in each town to verify the accuracy of the records on file with the agency.  Upon request, the selectboard or their designee shall be permitted to accompany the representative of the agency during the measurement and inspection.  The agency shall notify the town when any highway, or portion of a highway, does not meet the standards for its assigned class.  If the town fails, within one year, to restore the highway or portion of the highway to the accepted standard, or to reclassify, or to discontinue, or develop an acceptable schedule for restoring to the accepted standards, the agency for purposes of apportionment under section 306 of this title shall deduct the affected mileage from that assigned to the town for the particular class of the road in question.

(b)  Annually, on or before February 10, the selectboard shall file with the town clerk a sworn statement of the description and measurements of all class 1, 2, and 3, and 4 town highways, and trails then in existence, including any special designation such as a throughway or scenic highway.  When class 1, 2, or 3, or 4 town highways, trails, or unidentified corridors are accepted, discontinued, or reclassified, a copy of the proceedings shall be filed in the town clerk’s office and a copy shall be forwarded to the agency. 

(c)  All class 1, 2, 3, and 4 town highways and trails shall appear on the town highway maps by July 1, 2015

(d)  At least 45 days prior to first including a town highway or trail that is not clearly observable by physical evidence of its use as a highway or trail and that is legally established prior to February 10, 2006 in the sworn statement required under subsection (b) of this section, the legislative body of the municipality shall provide written notice and an opportunity to be heard at a duly warned meeting of the legislative body to persons owning lands through which a highway or trail passes or abuts. 

(e)  The agency shall not accept any change in mileage until the records required to be filed in the town clerk’s office by this section are received by the agency.  A request by a municipality to the agency for a change in mileage shall include a description of the affected highway or trail, a copy of any surveys of the affected highway or trail, minutes of meetings at which the legislative body took action with respect to the changes, and a current town highway map with the requested deletions and additions sketched on it.  A survey shall not be required for class 4 town highways that are legally established prior to February 10, 2006.  All records filed with the agency are subject to verification in accordance with subsection (a) of this section.

(d)(f)  The selectboard of any town who are aggrieved by a finding of the agency concerning the measurement, description or classification of a town highway may appeal to the transportation board by filing a notice of appeal with the executive secretary of the transportation board.

(e)(g)  Upon request, the The agency shall provide each town with a map of all of the highways in that town together with the mileage of each class 1, 2, and 3 highway and such other information as the agency deems appropriate.

(h)  Notwithstanding the provisions of subchapter 7 of chapter 7 of this title, on or before July 1, 2009, a municipality’s legislative body may vote to discontinue all town highways that are not included as such on the sworn certificate of the description and measurement of town highways filed with the town clerk on February 10 of that year pursuant to subsection (b) of this section.  For the purposes of this section, a town highway shall be deemed to be included on the sworn certificate of the description and measurement of town highways if:

(1)  a petition has been filed with the legislative body by persons who are either voters or landowners, and whose number is at least five percent of the voters in a municipality desiring to include that town highway on the sworn certificate of the description and measurement of town highways, prior to the vote taken under this subsection; or

(2)  the legislative body has voted at an annual or special meeting duly warned for the purpose to include that town highway on the sworn certificate of the description and measurement of town highways, prior to the vote taken under this subsection.

(i)(1)  Prior to a vote to discontinue town highways provided in subsection (h) of this section, the legislative body shall hold a public informational hearing on the question by posting warnings at least 30 days prior to the hearing in at least two public places within the municipality and in the town clerk’s office.  The notice shall include the most recently available map of all town highways prepared by the agency of transportation pursuant to subsection (g) of this section.  At least 30 days prior to the hearing, the legislative body shall also deliver the warning and map together with proof of receipt or mail by certified mail, return receipt requested, to each of the following:

(A)  The chair of any municipal planning commission in the municipality;

(B)  The chair of a conservation commission, established under chapter 118 of Title 24, in the municipality;

(C)  The chair of the legislative body of each abutting municipality;

(D)  The executive director of the regional planning commission of the area in which the municipality is located; and

(E)  The commissioner of forests, parks and recreation.

(2)  The hearing shall be held within the 10 days preceding the meeting at which the legislative body will vote whether to discontinue all town highways as provided in subsection (h) of this section.

(j)  The legislative body may designate a specific highway or portion thereof proposed to be discontinued as a trail, in which case the right-of-way shall be continued at the width provided for in section 702 of this title.  A designation of a highway or portion thereof as a trail under the provisions of this section shall be in writing, setting forth a complete description of the highway or portion thereof so designated.  For all highways not designated as a trail and discontinued pursuant to this section, title to the rights‑of‑way shall belong to the owners of the abutting lands.  If the right-of-way is located between the lands of two different owners, it shall be returned to the lots to which it originally belonged, if they can be determined; if not, it shall be equally divided between the owners of the lands on each side.  The legislative body shall return a report of its actions to the town clerk’s office and the agency of transportation.

(k)  A vote pursuant to subsection (h) of this section may be disapproved by a vote of a majority of the qualified voters of the municipality voting on the question at an annual or special meeting duly warned for the purpose pursuant to a petition that is:

(1)  signed by not less than five percent of the qualified voters of the municipality; and

(2)  presented to the legislative body or the clerk of the municipality within 44 days following the vote taken pursuant to subsection (h) of this section.

(l)  When a petition is submitted in accordance with subsection (k) of this section, the legislative body shall call a special meeting within 60 days from the date of receipt of the petition or include an article in the warning for the next annual meeting of the municipality if the annual meeting falls within the 60-day period to determine whether the voters will disapprove the discontinuance of town highways as provided in subsection (h) of this section.

(m)  No fewer than two copies of a notice that the legislative body has voted to discontinue all town highways as provided in subsection (h) of this section 

shall be posted at each polling place during the hours of voting, and copies thereof shall be made available to voters at the polls upon request.

(n)  If a petition for an annual or a special meeting is duly submitted in accordance with this section to determine whether the vote of the legislative body to discontinue all town highways as provided in subsection (h) of this section shall be disapproved by the voters of the municipality, the discontinuance shall take effect on the conclusion of the meeting or at such later date as is specified in the discontinuance unless a majority of the qualified voters voting on the question at the meeting vote to disapprove the discontinuance, in which event it shall not take effect.

Sec. 3.  19 V.S.A. § 708(a) is amended to read:

(a)  Persons who are either voters or landowners, and whose number is at least five percent of the voters, in a town, desiring to have a highway laid out, altered, reclassified, or discontinued, may apply by petition in writing to the selectmen selectboard for that purpose.  A person who is a landowner in a town, desiring to have an unidentified corridor which passes through or abuts his or her land discontinued or altered, may apply in writing to the selectboard for that purpose.  The selectmen selectboard may also initiate these proceedings on their its own motion.

Sec. 4.  19 V.S.A. § 717 is amended to read:

§ 717.  EVIDENCE OF HIGHWAY COMPLETION OR

             DISCONTINUANCE

(a)  The lack of a certificate of completion of a highway shall not alone constitute conclusive evidence that a highway is not public.

(b)  A town or county highway that has not been kept passable for use by the general public for motorized travel at the expense of the municipality for a period of 30 or more consecutive years following a final determination to discontinue the highway shall be presumed to have been effectively discontinued.  This presumption of discontinuance may be rebutted by evidence that manifests a clear intent by the municipality or county and the public to consider or use the way as a highway.  The presumption of discontinuance shall not be rebutted by evidence that shows isolated acts of maintenance, unless other evidence exists that shows a clear intent by the municipality or county to consider or use the highway as if it were a public right‑of‑way. 

(c)  A person whose sole means of access to a parcel of land or portion thereof owned by that person is by way of a town highway or unidentified corridor that is subsequently discontinued shall retain a private right-of-way over the former town highway or unidentified corridor for any necessary access to the parcel of land or portion thereof and maintenance of his or her right-of-way.

Sec. 5.  19 V.S.A. § 740 is amended to read:

§ 740.  PETITION

(a)  When a person owning or interested in lands through which a highway is laid out, altered, or resurveyed by selectboard members, objects to the necessity of taking the land, or is dissatisfied with the laying out, altering or resurveying of the highway, or with the compensation for damages, he or she may appeal, in the manner provided for state agencies subject to the Administrative Procedure Act (3 V.S.A. chapter 25) accordance with Rule 74 of the Vermont Rules of Civil Procedure, to the superior court in the same county, or in either county when the highway or bridge is in two counties.  Any number of aggrieved persons may join in the appeal.  The appeal shall be filed within 30 days after the order of the selectboard members on the highway is recorded.  JDIf the appeal is taken from the appraisal of damages only, the selectboard members may proceed with the work as though no appeal had been taken.  Each of the appellants shall be entitled to a trial by jury on the question of damages.

(b)  The words “necessity” and “damages” as used in this section shall have the same definition as set forth in chapter 5 of this title.

Sec. 6.  19 V.S.A. § 771 is amended to read:

§ 771.  PROCEDURE

(a)  The selectmen legislative body of a municipality may discontinue a town highway or bridge wholly within the town after following the procedures of sections 708-711 of this title.  The selectmen of two or more towns may discontinue a highway continuing into each of the towns by individually following the same procedure.  The public hearing may be jointly held if the selectmen agree.  If the decision is not the same in all towns involved, the superior court shall be petitioned to resolve the issue.  If two or more counties are involved then the petition can be presented to the court in the county having the greatest share of mileage involved.  The commissioners appointed to discontinue a highway or bridge shall be disinterested landowners who are not those appointed to lay out the highway or bridge. A decree or order made by the commissioners under the provisions of this section may be reviewed by the superior court under the same conditions and the same proceedings as are provided for the laying out of highways.  The authority of the legislative body under this subsection shall extend to any town highway, regardless of whether the highway was originally laid out by the town, the former county court, the supreme court, a committee of the general assembly, a turnpike company, or was established in any other manner now or formerly authorized by law.

(b)  Notwithstanding subsection (a) of this section, the legislative body shall not discontinue a class 1 or class 2 town highway without the prior approval of the secretary of transportation.

(c)  Notwithstanding subsection (a) of this section, the legislative body shall not discontinue a class 3 or class 4 town highway extending into an adjacent municipality without notifying the legislative body of the adjacent municipality.  If the legislative body of the adjacent town is aggrieved by a decision of the legislative body of the municipality in which the highway is located, it may appeal to the transportation board pursuant to subdivision 5(d)(8) of this title.

Sec. 7.  REPEAL

19 V.S.A. §§ 773 (county highways) and 774 (highways ordered by the general assembly) are repealed.

Sec. 8.  19 V.S.A. § 5(d)(8) is amended to read:

(d)  The board shall:

* * *

(8)  hear and determine disputes involving the decision of a selectboard under subdivision 302(a)(3)(B) or subsection 310(a) of this title not to plow and make negotiable a class 2 or 3 town highway or section of a highway during the winter or involving discontinuances of class 3 or 4 town highways extending into adjacent towns under the provisions of subsection 771(c) of this title; and

Sec. 9.  24 V.S.A. § 4306 is amended to read:

§ 4306.  MUNICIPAL AND REGIONAL PLANNING FUND

* * *

(b)  Disbursement to regional planning commissions shall be according to a formula to be adopted by rule under chapter 25 of Title 3 by the department for the assistance of the regional planning commissions.  The rules shall give due consideration to the region’s progress in adopting a regional plan.  Disbursement to municipalities shall be through a competitive program administered by the department providing the opportunity for any eligible municipality or municipalities to compete regardless of size, provided that to receive funds, a municipality:

(1)  Shall be confirmed under section 4350 of this title; or

(2)(A)  Shall use the funds for the purpose of developing a municipal plan to be submitted for approval by the regional planning commission, as required for municipal confirmation under section 4350 of this title; and

(B)  Shall have voted at an annual or special meeting to provide local funds for municipal and regional planning purposes; or

(3)  Regardless of eligibility under subdivisions (1) and (2)(A) of this subsection, may apply to use the funds exclusively to research and map town highways, trails, and unidentified corridors under subdivisions 302(a)(6) and (7) of Title 19.

* * *

Sec. 10.  APPROPRIATIONS; PROPERTY TRANSFER TAX

(a)  The amount of $100,000.00 is transferred from the department of buildings and general services in fiscal year 2007 to the municipal and regional planning fund to be used exclusively for grants to municipalities to research and map town highways, trails, and unidentified corridors under subdivisions 302(a)(6) and (7) of Title 19.

(b)  At the close of FY 2006, any property transfer tax revenues above $46,400,000.00, not to exceed $400,000.00, shall be deposited into the municipal and regional planning fund to be used exclusively for grants to municipalities to research and map town highways, trails, and unidentified corridors under subdivisions 302(a)(6) and (7) of Title 19.

Sec. 11.  TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS

To ensure that all of its class 1, 2, 3, and 4 town highways and trails appear on the town highway map by July 1, 2015, a municipality shall submit its requested changes with supporting documentation to the agency of transportation by March 15, 2014.  On or before September 1, 2014, the agency of transportation shall provide each municipality which has requested changes with a proof copy of the proposed new town highway map.  On or before December 31, 2014, a municipality shall notify the agency of transportation of any apparent errors or omissions in the proof copy of the proposed new town highway map.

Sec. 12.  REPORTS; AGENCY OF TRANSPORTATION; COURT

ADMINISTRATOR

(a)  The agency of transportation shall file a report with the general assembly annually on February 15, which:

(1)  evaluates the effectiveness of this act;

(2)  recommends additional measures necessary to meet the goals of this act;

(3)  identifies which municipalities have mapped all of their town highways and trails; and

(4)  identifies which municipalities availed themselves of the provisions of 19 V.S.A. § 305(g), relating to mass discontinuances of unidentified corridors.

(b)  The court administrator shall file a report with the general assembly annually on January 1 which describes the number of cases pending and outcomes of any final resolution of litigation involving unidentified corridors. 

(c)  The department of housing and community affairs shall file a report with the general assembly annually on January 1 of:

(1)  the number of applicants for disbursements from the municipal and regional planning fund;

(2)  the number of towns that have received disbursements from the fund; and

(3)  the amount of each disbursement.

Sec. 13.  SUNSET

24 V.S.A. § 4306(b)(3) (disbursements from municipal and regional planning fund for the researching and mapping of town highways, trails, and unidentified corridors) and Sec. 12 of this act (agency reports) are repealed on July 2, 2012.

Sec. 14.  EFFECTIVE DATE; APPLICATION

(a)  This section and Sec. 10 of this act shall take effect upon passage, and the remaining sections shall take effect on July 1, 2006.

(b)  This act shall not affect a suit begun or pending at the time of its passage.

Approved:  May 23, 2006



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us