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Who Owns The Road (And Pays To Keep It Paved)?

Highways and streets don’t pave themselves. Someone has to own the strip of land the road is on, pay for the gravel and asphalt to cover it, pay for the heavy machines and workers to pave it, and pay for the paint for the lines. Someone also has to pay for damages caused to vehicles and people caused by deep potholes if they’re left unfixed.


Although major highways like interstates and U.S. routes use federal funds for construction and upkeep, their owners are technically the states they’re in. So the state of Florida owns I-95 from the border on St. Mary’s River down to Miami, but Georgia owns the freeway until it crosses the Savannah River into South Carolina. Between the state and federal transportation funds, you can usually count on the highways being in good enough shape that you don’t have to worry about vehicle damage.

States also own state highways, like FL-776, a road that starts in Port Charlotte and ends in Venice. Because the state owns these roads along with the bigger highways, they can share numbers, like how I-75 is also FL-93.


Counties tend to own smaller roads than states, rural roads that connect farms to state roads and are much more likely to be gravel instead of paved streets. And while you have to expect a bumpy ride on gravel, unpaved roads can still develop dangerous, suspension-killing potholes. Sometimes counties are also responsible for the roads of unincorporated communities, although that depends on the community and the county in question.


Incorporated towns and cities are responsible for the public roads within their city limits, and they can also take responsibility for the roads of nearby communities. Like counties, though, this depends on the cities and communities. Cities have much less money to spend than states and a whole lot of vehicles constantly driving over their paved roads, so if you hit a pothole that hurts your back or destroys one of your shocks, chances are you’re on a city-owned street.


The owners of driveways and certain rural roads are the people or companies that own the land. Sidewalks are in a slightly gray area, but usually they’re something called “easements.” Much like telephone poles, pipes, and buried cables, sidewalks sit on private land but the owner isn’t allowed to change it. Also, the public has a right to use it. Depending on the city, neighborhood, and housing association it may be up to them or to you to keep the sidewalk slabs in good condition, but the homeowner needs to keep it clean and clear if nothing else.

If you or your vehicle take serious damage from driving over a pothole, you are entitled to compensation. You may have to jump through some hoops to prove the pothole did the damage and that the city could have fixed the problem by the time you hit it, but the owners of roads are responsible for the safety of the people using them. The settlement might not be for much, but don’t take “No” for an answer and consider a short consultation with a personal injury lawyer for advice on how to handle the city bureaucracy.