Well-planned, sited and managed road and trail networks are important for providing access for vehicles, recreation, forestry, and wildlife management. Poorly sited roads and trails can fragment forestland, limit wildlife movement, cause erosion, and create breaks in forest cover that serve as pathways for invasive species. New roads also open up more land for development, which further fragments forests. Communities have several options when it comes to deciding how to manage road and trail networks.
Municipalities can choose to manage fragmentation issues related to roads and trails through a variety of policies or guidelines that are advisory in nature, as well as through locally adopted highway ordinances, zoning regulations, and subdivision regulations. Enacting road and trail policies may also help lighten budget pressures: for example by limiting the upgrading of existing roads, and the development and acquisition of new roads in previously inaccessible areas. This is because new and upgraded roads increase road maintenance costs. In addition, more roads can mean more development, which comes with additional costs for the extension of emergency and school bussing services to these areas.
There are several sections of statute that govern how communities may regulate roads and trails – found mainly under Title 19 (Highways) and Title 24 (Planning and Development). To read more about each, please see the Resources section (below).
Here are just a few examples of the form that road and trail policies can take:
- Require that new development has frontage on or access to town roads that are currently maintained for year-round use (Class 3 or higher).
- Develop a policy that the municipality shall not extend road maintenance services to private roads and shall not reclassify private roads as town roads.
- Limit the uses that can be accessed from Class 4 roads (that are typically maintained only for seasonal use) to those uses that do not require year-round vehicular access (e.g., forestry and wildlife management, outdoor recreation, seasonal camps).
- Restrict or prohibit the upgrade of existing Class 4 roads and legal trails to serve new development to a) avoid additional long-term maintenance costs, and b) limit development and public access (especially vehicle access) in more remote areas of town that currently require no municipal services (roads, emergency services, school bussing, etc.).
- Downgrade Class 4 roads to legal trails, to eliminate road maintenance costs but retain town rights-of-way for public access and recreational use.
When using this tool, it’s important to remember that the Selectboard has jurisdiction over local roads, which means that they should be involved early in any discussion over road policies and standards, and that related standards under zoning and subdivision regulations should be consistent with policies adopted by the Selectboard.
Related Case Studies
“Topic Paper 25: Roads & Highways,” Land Use Planning and Implementation Manual.
“Road and Trail Policies,” Community Strategies for Vermont’s Forests and Wildlife: A Guide for Local Action. Chapter 17, p. 63.
Please Note: Language used in this summary was adapted from Community Strategies for Vermont’s Forests and Wildlife: A Guide for Local Action, Chapter 17.