This story first appeared in the March-April issue of Soybean Business, A Minnesota Soybean Growers Association Magazine. This article comes from the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, which hopes to raise awareness about road right of way rules. Click here to read more articles from Soybean Business.
Farmers are always on the lookout for ways to get the most out of their acres. But as spring planting approaches, they’re reminded that those gains cannot come at the expense of road rights of way.
Over the course of time, farming can encroach on a road right of way, particularly in areas where markers have fallen down or have been removed. That can lead to safety, utility and environmental concerns.
“First and foremost our concern is for the safety of the traveling public,” says Steve Schoeb, roadway regulation supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Mankato district, “but we also have to accommodate public utilities.”
Schoeb says on state highways, the right of way typically extends a minimum of 75 feet from the center of the road. In some areas, depending on topography or other features, that right of way can extend further.
Sight corners occur at the intersection of two roads. They can be susceptible to visual obstructions if crops are planted illegally in the right of way, particularly if that crop is tall, like corn.
In heavily farmed areas, especially in locations where right of way markers are no longer present, farm tillage may have gradually expanded into areas where it shouldn’t.
That practice can not only be dangerous for motorists, but it could interrupt public utilities and even foul ditch drainage. Plowing, tilling and planting within highway rights of way violates state law and could lead to a fine of $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail.
“Public utilities are the only things that are supposed to be in the road ditches,” Schoeb adds. “Those utilities used to be unusual, now there may be as many as four different utilities running through that ditch. That’s valuable public land and it’s a problem when we can’t get to it because it’s being cropped.”
In some cases, unintentionally planted crops have been mowed to allow companies to install public utilities in the right of way. Schoeb says the Mankato district is in the process of reinstalling right of way markers in many of the areas where they’re currently missing to eliminate any confusion.
“The land owner’s property title may say they own to the center of the road, but most titles like that have an easement giving the roadway authority the power to take care of the roads,” Schoeb says. Even if the title says farmers own the land to the center of the road they’re usually not assessed. Another issue highway officials often encounter is illegal signage. Signs are not allowed in the right of way, including for sale, political or seed signs. Pounding stakes or posts into the right of way could disrupt public utility service or cause a visual obstruction.
As part of the highway beautification act, seed signs placed outside the right of way can include the company logo, variety number and retail seller’s name, but not the address, in order to avoid being considered an advertisement. Those in violation can be removed.
On the Web
All of the state’s right of way maps are available on the MNDOT website at www.dot.state.mn.us. For specific questions about right of way issues, contact the Department of Transportation district office nearest you.