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Know the West

The Latest: Supreme Court denies roads rule appeal in Utah

Decision makes it harder for counties to claim roads on public land.


Revised Statute 2477 was passed in 1866 to allow settlers to build roads across public land. Many Western counties later exploited it to reopen long-abandoned routes to motorized travel, even in national parks and wilderness study areas (“The road to nowhere,” HCN, 12/20/04). Utah filed its first right-of-way lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management in January 2004, claiming a road in Juab County.  Although it was denied, 22 other Utah counties eventually filed R.S. 2477 claims on 36,000 miles of rural roads.

On Oct. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Utah’s appeal of a “test case” involving a handful of Kane County roads, meant to resolve issues common to many of the lawsuits. The decision preserves a lower court ruling, which found that since the routes in question were already open, there was no reason to transfer ownership to the counties — thereby undermining their chances of claiming other such roads.