Ohio has specific processes for creating, naming and maintaining most roads other than state highways and interstates.
Typically, a roadway is created by a private property owner initially stating in a written drawing (plat) prepared by a licensed engineer that a strip of land is “dedicated” to a local government as a road.
The county commissioners “approve” the roadway by literally writing “approved” on the drawing and signing the drawing before the drawing is recorded in the county recorder’s office.
However, there is no duty of local government to maintain an approved road until that approved road is “accepted,” which is a separate road creation step. For roads within a municipality, the council must accept and confirm the roadway. For other roads, county commissioners accept the road.
Often, local governments will require that approved roads satisfy various local government standards (i.e. sidewalks, curbs, asphalt depths, etc.) before the government will formally “accept” roads.
Of course, a local government can purchase property and create a road on that purchased property. Roads can also be created when the government uses and maintains certain private property like a public road for 21 continuous years. However, a private landowner cannot build a building on a public road and 21 years later successfully assert that the private landowner has converted the road to private property.
For roads that are “accepted,” the county engineer names the road. Most often, the county engineer will follow the county or municipality’s naming structure if there is a structure. For example, in Putnam County, many roads are one mile apart from each other and are located along township section lines, named under an alphanumeric system where most east-west roads are lettered alphabetically, and most north-south roads are numbered in order.
Other times, the engineer may use a name proposed by the property owner who dedicated the road or a name asked-for by a local municipal council or township trustees. The director of the Ohio Department of Transportation technically supervises road naming to preclude inappropriate roadway names like, “Crazy Ex-Spouse Lane,” although a road in Cleveland is named “Twinkie Lane” and a busy road in central Ohio called “Seldom Seen Road.”
If a road is in a municipality, the only way to re-name the road is by action (ordinance) of the municipality’s council. For roads outside municipalities, the county commissioners (by resolution) are the only folks who can change a road’s name.
Roads in municipalities are often called “streets” and are under the jurisdiction and control of the municipal government.
Roads outside municipalities are designated by the applicable county’s commissioners (in consultation with the applicable township’s trustees) to either be county roads or township roads. County commissioners acting in consultation with a township can convert a township road to a county road and vice versa.
Counties have jurisdiction and maintenance responsibilities for county roads. Townships have jurisdiction and primary maintenance responsibilities for township roads. Ohio law creates a close working relationship between county engineers and township trustees, especially as to professional advice concerning township roads.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.