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What is Right-of-Way?

Right-of-way is a general term denoting ownership or interests in land or property, which is usually a linear corridor or a strip of land associated with transportation related uses and purposes.  Right-of-way may refer to linear corridors such as highways, roadways, pipelines, electrical lines, utility lines, waterways, railroads, etc.     

Right-of-way may be held by fee title or by easement.  An easement is an interest or right on a property for specific purpose(s) which is an encumbrance on a property.  Several types of easements may be associated with right-of-way.   Right-of-way may be transferred through conveyance, grant, prescriptive use by statute, dedication, donation, or by condemnation under the rights of eminent domain. 

Purpose of Public Right-of-Way

Public right-of-way is for the accommodation and movement of traffic, transit, pedestrians, utilities, drainage and other public and quasi-public uses for transportation related public uses and purposes for the public welfare and safety.  Public right-of-way provides benefits to the public such as transportation and mobility of people, products, commerce, water supply, wastewater treatment systems, utility services, energy, and communication systems.

Uses of Public Right-of-Way

The County uses its public right-of-way to construct, operate, maintain and change its highways and other transportation related infrastructure and appurtenances.  Also, the County regulates other uses it may permit in its right-of-way.    

Other Uses of Public Right-of-Way

Public utilities and quasi-public utilities (private utility companies regulated by the Public Utility Commission) by regulation are allowed to use the public right-of-way, subject to permit by the road authority, for installation, operation and maintenance of its facilities.  Utilities may include water, sewer, electric, gas, telecommunications, and cable television services.  These utilities are permitted in the public right-of-way as their services provide benefits to the community. Each utility is required to maintain its facilities as well as restore county highway, drainage facilities and turf, which are damaged due to utility work within the public right-of-way.  Other uses of the public right-of-way are regulated under the County’s Ordinance No. 22 - Management of Public Right-of-Way

Regulation of Public Right-of-Way

The County has been granted authority by Minnesota law to regulate its right-of-way and has a duty to use its right-of-way responsibly and in the interest of the general public to maintain the transportation related infrastructure for County highways, roads, drainage facilities, appurtenances and its utilities within its right-of-way.  The County regulates its right-of-way to maintain the integrity and function of its highway infrastructure, highway functional classification and to minimize negative impacts to the traveling public. 
Access to and from the public right-of-way on a County highway or road is regulated by the Scott County Highway Department through a permit process under the County’s Ordinance No. 22 - Management of Public Right-of-Way.   Access regulation is in the interest of the public safety and welfare; to maintain traffic flow; to maintain road drainage facilities; and to preserve the functional level of the highways and roads on its County Highway System.
The County does not allow any use of or on its public right-of-way without its Highway Department granting a permit under the County’s Ordinance No. 22 - Management of Public Right-of-Way.  Please refer to the Highway Permits page for details of the permitting process.  
The County recommends that you verify property lines and/or right-of-way lines along or on your property to ensure your structures, fences, landscaping, or other improvements, including setbacks, do not encroach upon or fall within the public right-of-way.  Private signs are prohibited within the public right-of-way and are subject to removal.    

Common Myth that Right-of-Way Ends at the Edge of Pavement or Back of Curb 

In most cases the public right-of-way width is greater than the paved or gravel surface of the roadway. The public right-of-way may include roadway, shoulders, in-slopes, back-slopes, ditches, boulevards, drainage facilities, traffic signals, traffic signs, transit facilities, pedestrian facilities, sidewalks, trails,  public and quasi-public utilities, clear zones, etc. 
Generally, the width of the public right-of-way may be defined in various documents and plats filed of record in the Office of County Recorder/Registrar of Titles.  In urban areas, public right-of-way may be shown on sub-division plats or right-of-way plats.  In both urban and undeveloped areas, the right-of-way may be conveyed or granted by documents filed of record in the public land records in the Office of County Recorder/Registrar of Titles.
In situations where no documentation exists, the County may claim prescriptive use by statute. The transportation related occupation and uses establish prescriptive use.   Prescriptive use may be undefined width and areas of right-of-way, which is determined by actual width of use by the roadway, shoulders, boulevards, in-slopes, back-slopes, ditches, structures, drainage facilities, traffic signs, traffic signals, transit facilities, pedestrian facilities, utilities, clear zones, recovery areas, etc.  Generally, the width of the area maintained or used by the County, including public or quasi-public utilities by permit from the Highway Department, may be considered in the right-of-way. 

Suggested Methods to Determine Width of Public Right-of-Way

Right-of-way varies in width from highway to highway and may vary in width along different segments of the same highway or road.  There are several ways to determine the location of a right-of-way line, including: 
  • Engaging a licensed professional land surveyor to complete a land survey and, if appropriate, along with a title search of the public records in the Office of County Recorder/Registrar of Titles. This is an accurate and reliable method to locate property boundaries and encumbrances on the property, which includes right-of-way by easements on a property or right-of-way in fee.
  • Reviewing surveys of the property, or if the property is part of a sub-division, its sub-division plat.  Sub-division plats are available for viewing in the Office of County Recorder/Registrar of Titles and the County Surveyors office.  Caution:  This may not be a reliable method as easement interests may exist as encumbrances on a property that may be granted by document(s), which may have no reference on surveys and sub-division plats. 
  • Locating property irons on a property.  Caution: there may be several pins/irons in proximity to each other marking different or other boundaries and easements.
  • Measuring one half the width of the right-of-way, if width is known.  Caution:  This may be a representative method as a general rule of thumb for estimating an approximate right-of-way line, but is not an accurate method for determining the right-of-way. 
  • The Highway Department or Surveyors Office may assist in providing some information, if reasonably available from a cursory review of its files.  The Highway Department or Surveyors Office may have partial records and Right-of-Way Plats for more recent acquisitions of right-of-way.  Caution: said department or office files may be incomplete and may not contain all the information pertaining to the width or status of right-of-way so any such information is provided at user’s risk.   

Right-of-Way Acquisition for County Highways and Roads

The rights of government to acquire privately held property for public purposes by an involuntary sale (taking) is reserved in the U.S. Constitution under the rights of eminent domain.  The U.S. Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution reserve the rights of government to take private property for public purposes so long as just compensation is provided for the taking of private property for a public purpose.  Scott County complies with applicable federal and state laws and regulations to determine just compensation.  Scott County makes good faith and reasonable efforts to negotiate settlements, to avoid the need to acquire property through condemnation proceedings under the rights of eminent domain, but condemnation proceedings are sometimes necessary for the public welfare and safety of the general public.
Scott County has published a pamphlet entitled A Guide of Acquisition Procedures for Property Owners, which is a guide that provides a brief and general summary of acquisition procedures under the right of eminent domain.   This guide is intended to be informative guide only of the acquisition procedures.  It is not intended whatsoever to be legally binding as the applicable federal and state laws and regulations shall control.  This guide does not offer any legal advice.  

Voluntary Sales Between a Willing Seller and the County, as a Willing Buyer

If you own property adjacent to a County highway or road and you are a willing seller interested in selling some or all of your property abutting a County highway or road, please contact the Highway Department as the County may have an interest as a willing buyer in purchasing right-of-way for future highway and road needs. Acquiring the property on a voluntary basis as a willing seller(s) and a willing buyer(s) may benefit both parties. 
Contact Information
County Main Number
(952) 445-7750
Physical Development
(952) 496-8346
(952) 496-8365 (FAX)
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