Rhode Island House passes legislation to preserve public access to abandoned roads and trails

The Rhode Island House of Representatives has approved legislation that would allow cities and towns to abandon roads or trails that they no longer maintain but would still maintain public access to them.

The legislation was sponsored by State Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown).

The bill would create a new option for cities faced with the choice of either abandoning a road or trail completely, or paying for its maintenance but no longer being responsible for it.

Under the plan, cities would have to vote to abandon the roadway or trail but maintain an easement on it. That would mean the public’s right to use the path to walk, cycle or access a nature reserve or coastline would remain legally intact, even if the road is abandoned.

“Public access to nature has long been at risk in Rhode Island due to a lack of specific laws protecting it,” said Rep. Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown), who sponsored the 2023 legislation which established a legal definition of the public. area of ​​Rhode Island’s coastline. “Old roads and trails enjoyed by the public are often the subject of disputes as properties change hands or the area continues to develop. This legislation will provide cities and towns with a means to maintain public use of such places when the city would otherwise abandon them. Instead of having two choices – leave or be responsible for maintaining the road – it will give them a third choice: leave the road, but preserve the public’s right to continue using the road for recreation. That designation will legally establish public access and prevent any future disputes in this regard.”
The bill now heads to the Senate, where Sen. Victoria Gu (D-Dist. 38, Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown) is sponsoring companion legislation (2024-S 2641).

“This bill is a major step forward,” said Michael Rubin, retired Rhode Island assistant attorney general and longtime coastal attorney. “It embodies the concept of doing no harm. Too often, when cities abandon roads, it harms the public by restricting access. This bill will ensure that these roads can continue to serve recreation and access to our natural resources.”

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) helped a What’sUpNewp journalist report on this story.