Is there a law that allows a municipal highway department to remove trees, brush, and vegetation along the right of way area of a road and/or are there any regulations or laws that protect trees along the right of way, thus prohibiting a municipality from removing trees? Picture of a highway worker using a chainsaw to cut a tree branch.

The ability of the town to remove trees along the road is dependent on the type of right of way that has been established and whether it is a safety concern.

If the road is a right of way by use, were the landowner owns to the center of the road, than the landowner is responsible for the tree removal. The town does have the authority to remove trees if they feel they are a safety issue to the travelling public, but it is recommended that they reach out to the landowner, and possibly the landowner’s insurance carrier, first.

If the right of way has been established by a deed and the town actually owns the land, than the town may be responsible for the tree removal. In cases where the town does own the land and a tree is close to the edge of road it is often recommended to remove the tree to reduce the potential for a serious crash.

The town board may have also passed a local law or regulation making the landowner responsible.

With regard to brush along the road, particularly if the shoulders and ditches are maintained regularly, the town would cut the brush and vegetation to improve the visibility and safety of the road as part of their maintenance regardless of the type of right of way. This type of continued maintenance helps define the right of way in cases where the road is a right of way by use.

Resources

CLRP Quick Answer on diseased tree removal responsibility
https://www.clrp.cornell.edu/q-a/137-tree.html


CLRP manual: Powers and Duties of Local Highway Officials
https://cornell.app.box.com/v/clrp-ws-pd


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This work by the Cornell Local Roads Program (CLRP) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.