CLASS 4 HIGHWAYS AND TRAILS
- TEN QUESTIONS -
This fact sheet is an attempt to answer some of the
frequently asked questions about class 4 highways and trails in Vermont.
It’s a good idea to obtain legal counsel when making decisions about class 4
highways and trails.
1. What Is A Class 4 Highway?
According to VSA T19 #302 (c ), 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
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
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.
Class 3 town highways:
Class 3 town highways are all traveled town highways
other than class 1 0r 2 highways. The selectmen, after conference with a
representative of the agency shall determine which highways are class 3
The minimum standards for class 3 highways are a highway
negotiable under normal conditions all season 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.
A highway 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.
__5. Class 4 town highways are all
other town highways. The selectmen shall determine which highways are class
4 town highways.
__6. Trails shall not be considered highways and the town
shall not be responsible for any maintenance including culverts and bridges.
Additionally a class 4 highway:
is 3 rods or 49.5’ (unless otherwise recorded) – T19
is not eligible for state aid funds – T19 #306;
is usually not maintained for winter use – T19
#302 (a) (3) (b);
may be reclassified or discontinued – T19 Ch. 7.
2. What Is A Trail?
According to VSA T19 #301 (8), "Trail means a public
right-of-way which is not a highway and which:
"(A) previously was a designed town highway having the same
width as the designated town highway, or a lesser width if so designated; or
(B) a new public right-of-way laid out as a trail by the
selectmen for the purpose of providing access to abutting properties or for
recreational use. Nothing in this section shall be deemed to independently
authorize the condemnation of land for recreation purposes or to affect the
authority of selectmen to reasonably regulate the uses of recreational
Additionally, a trail:
is a public right-of-way and not a highway – T19 #302
is not a responsibility of the town for construction,
maintenance, repair or safety – T19 #310.
3. Why Is It Important To Keep Class 4 Highways And
A committee composed of seven Vermont groups drew up the
following response to this question in 1992, (VT Agency of Transportation,
VT Trails and Greenways Council, VT Timber Truckers and Producers
Association, Associated Industries of Vermont, VT Department of Forests,
Parks and Recreation, VT Local Roads Program, VT Association of Snow
There are approximately 1,700 miles of class
4 highways and trails in Vermont. Almost every town has at least a couple
miles of them, usually in the more remote section of town. With the
population growing and the interest in outdoor recreation also increasing,
it is important to keep class 4 highways and trails as public resources. As
private land is further developed, there will be less access for
snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, walking, bicycling, horseback riding,
fishing, hunting, and other outdoor recreation. Town-controlled corridors
will help to ensure that here will continue to be a place to enjoy these
activities. They also often serve as important links to more extensive trail
systems that are on private lands. Class 4 highways and trails provide
important transportation access for forest and agriculture management.
Finally as communities grow, these
rights-of-way may be needed to provide for development, and may be upgraded
accordingly. It would be costly to the town to pay landowners for a
right-of-way. If the town retains the right of way, reclassification to
class 3 for instance would involve virtually no cost beyond the cost of the
survey and notice.
4. Do Class 4 Highways And Trails Have To
According to VSA T19 #310:
"(b) Class 4 highways may be maintained to
the extent required by the necessity of the town, the public good and the
convenience of the inhabitants of the town, or may be reclassified using the
same procedures as for laying out highways and meeting the standards set
forth in section 302 of this title.
(c ) A town shall not be liable for
construction, maintenance, repair or safety of trails."
According to VSA T19 #302 (c ) (5):
"Trails shall not be considered highways and
the town shall not be responsible for any maintenance including culverts and
5. Do Class 4 Highways And Trails Have to
Be Upgraded On Request?
According to T19 #708 (b):
"A class 4 highway need not be reclassified
to class 3 merely because there exists within a won one or more class 3
highways with characteristics similar to the class 4 highway. In considering
whether to reclassify a class 4 highway to class 3, consideration may be
given as to whether the increased traffic and development potential likely
to result from the reclassification is desirable or is in accordance with
the town plan."
Additionally, T19 #711 (b) states:
"As part of the report of findings provided
for in subsection (a) of this section, the selectmen may order that the
petitioner bear the cost of upgrading a class 4 town highway to the class 3
town highway standards established in 19 VSA #302 (a) (3) (B.) Nothing in
this section shall be construed to require a town to maintain a class 4
highway or to upgrade a highway from class 4 to class 3."
Finally, T19 #710 states:
"After examining the premises and hearing any
interested parties, and if the selectmen judge that the public good,
necessity and convenience of the inhabitants of the municipality require the
highway to be laid out, altered or reclassified as claimed in the petition,
they shall cause the highway to be surveyed if the highway right-of-way
cannot be determined and shall place suitable monuments to properly make the
bounds of the survey. If they decide to discontinue a highway, the
discontinuance shall be in writing setting forth a completed description of
6. What Is The Process For Altering,
Reclassifying Or Discontinuing?
This process is spelled out in detail in T19
#708-712 and #771-775. These statutes should be reviewed for a full
understanding. A brief summary of the process is as follows:
Landowners or voters (at least 5% of
voters) petition the selectmen or the selectmen initiate on their own.
Selectmen set a time and date for
visiting premises and hold a hearing. Thirty days notice must be given
to petitioners, abutting land owners or persons having and interest and
planning commission. Notice must also be posted and published not less
than 10 days before hearing. The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks
and Recreation must also be sent a notice when a petition is filed.
(T19 #775) The Department will notify the state trails organizations
and, if the proposed discontinuance appears to have recreational value,
will urge the town to retain in trail status.
Within 60 days after the examination and
hearing the selectmen must make a decision, notify the parties, and the
action recorded by the clerk.
7. Can The Town Regulate The Types,
Season, Or Condition Of Use?
Selectmen clearly have the authority under
T19 #304 (a) (2) to:
"take any action consistent with the
provisions of law, which are necessary for or incidental to the proper
management and administration of town highways."
Also, under T19 #304 (5) selectmen may:
"grant permission to enclose pent roads and
trails by the owner of the land during any part of the year, by erecting
stiles, unlocked gates and bars in places designated and to make regulations
governing the use of pent roads and trails and to establish penalties not to
exceed $50.00 for noncompliance. Permission shall be in writing and recorded
in the town clerk's office."
They can limit types of use such as
snowmobiles, ATV’s and 4x4’s; season of use such as restricting motorized
vehicles during muddy periods; or condition of use such as speed and weight
8. How Can Towns Best Manage Class 4
Highways And Trails?
One way to manage these resources is to
address class 4 roads and trails in a town highway policy and in the town
9. Does The Town Have Any Legal Rights If
Someone Blocks A Highway Or Trail?
According to VSA T19 #1105:
"A person who places or causes to be placed
an obstruction or encroachment in a public highway or trail, so as to hinder
or prevent public travel, or to injure or impede a person traveling on the
highway or trail, shall be fined not more than $1,000 plus the actual costs
of repairing the damage and a reasonably attorney’s fee, to be recovered in
a civil action in the name of the town or state. One or more items of
logging or other equipment temporarily within the right-of-way of a trail
shall not be actionable under this section if located in such a way as not
to unreasonably impede passage. If the court finds that an action under this
section was brought without substantial basis, the court may award a
reasonable attorney’s fee against the person bringing the action." (Added by
10. What Is A Pent Road?
According to T19 #301 (4):
"(4) ‘Pent road’ is any town highway which,
by written allowance of the selectmen, is enclosed and occupied by the
adjoining landowner with unlocked stiles, gates and bars in such places as
the selectmen designate."