Massachusetts law about roads and streets

Laws, regulations, cases and web sources on roads and streets law.

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Table of Contents

Best bet

Massachusetts streets and ways for surveyors, by F. Sydney Smithers, Esq., 2011.
This 78-page document provides a lengthy discussion of public & private ways in Massachusetts, including establishment and maintenance of ways, installation of utilities, easements, paper streets, discontinuance and subdivision control. Includes detailed references to cases and statutes.

Massachusetts laws

Private ways

MGL c. 40, § 6C  and MGL c. 40, § 6D Snow removal on private ways

MGL c. 40, § 6N Temporary repairs to private ways

MGL c. 83, § 3A Repairs of sewers on private ways

MGL c. 187, § 5 Installation of public utility services for abutting owners on private ways authorized

Public ways maintenance

MGL c. 40, § 16 Street sprinkling and cleaning

MGL c. 84 Repair of ways and bridges

MGL c. 164, § 34A Municipal street lighting service

Scenic roads

MGL c. 40, § 15C Scenic roads


MGL c. 83, § 25 Sidewalks, established by municipalities

MGL c. 83, § 26 Assessment for the construction or reconstruction of sidewalk
A municipality may assess the abutting property owner a portion of the cost.

State highways

MGL c. 81, § 13 Definition of state highway

Trucks (commercial)

For state laws and regulations about trucks and trailers, including size and weight limits on roadways, see Massachusetts commercial trucking regulations

Massachusetts regulations

700 CMR 3.00 Control and restriction of billboards, signs, and other advertising devices along roads and highways

700 CMR 5.00 Regulation of certain roadways and bridges including parking

Selected cases

Barry v. Planning Board of Belchertown, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 314 (2019)
Discusses the use of collateral estoppel (a doctrine that prevents a party from relitigating an issue) to prevent a town from arguing that a given way is not a public way.

Manor Avenue LLC v. Fontanella, 74 Mass. App. Ct. 155 (2009)
Discusses circumstances under which rights in a paper street may be eliminated.

Myer v. Veolia Energy, N.A., 482 Mass. 208 (2019)
Don't need 30 days' notice to private party. "[T]he road defect and notice statutes apply to governmental and quasi governmental actors responsible for the public duty of maintaining the public way, and not to a private party such as Veolia that has created a particular defect in the way...Consequently, Veolia may be sued for its own negligence without providing thirty days' notice."

Web sources

Commercial truck permits - height and weight limitations, Mass. Dept. of Transportation, Highway Division.
Permits are necessary if your truck exceeds certain size and weight limitations. Use this page to quickly check if you need a permit.

Crash rate information, Mass. Dept. of Transportation, Highway Division.
The "most current crash rates available for use in Massachusetts, as well as the procedures for calculating crash rates and the standard crash rate form to be used for all submissions to MassHighway."

DCR street sweeping and leaf removal, Mass. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation.
Information on the Department of Conservation & Recreation’s annual program of monthly street-sweeping along selected roadways in the Boston area to clean those roadways and improve the quality of storm water runoff.

Manual on uniform traffic control devices (MUTCD), Federal Highway Administration, 11th ed. (2023)
MUTCD defines the standards used nationwide to install and maintain the signs, signals, and pavement markings on all streets and highways.

  • See also for updates: Massachusetts amendments to the MUTCD, which "modifies the federal standards where necessary to cover local requirements. It incorporates MassDOT's most recent traffic engineering recommendations."

Mass. Appeals Court highlights workaround for identifying a public way, National Law Review, November 9, 2019.
Discusses using estoppel to establish that property fronts onto a public way.

MassHighway manuals, Mass. Dept. of Transportation, Highway Division.
Extensive list of manuals, primarily on construction, including bridges, speed zoning, surveying and more.

Massachusetts construction standard details, Mass. Dept. of Transportation, Highway Division, 2017.
This 141-page manual includes the smallest details of highway construction in Massachusetts

Mass. Department of Transportation, Highway Division
Includes information on E-ZPass, traffic, maps, data, and reports, Highway Division manuals and publications, highway construction projects, bicycle and pedestrian transportation, and more.  The MassDOT Highway Division designs, constructs, maintains and operates the state’s highways, bridges and tunnels, and also assists cities and towns with their road and bridge needs.

MassDot project development and design guide, Mass. Dept. of Transportation, Highway Division.
"This guide serves as a national model for developing context-sensitive, community-friendly road and bridge projects." Includes standard road design elements, as well as aesthetic and wildlife considerations.

Private ways, public accessBoston Globe, February 10, 2008.
When can the public access a private way and what rights do the residents on that private way have?

Public vs. private ways, City of Boston.
Example of the differences between public and private ways. Check your town’s bylaws
 for specific local rules.

Report highway litter, Keep Massachusetts Beautiful. 
To report Massachusetts litter, call the Massachusetts Litter hotline at 1-857-368-3500. However, you may achieve better results by contacting your local MassDOT district headquarters. There are six districts in Massachusetts, and you can find more information on the Keep Massachusetts Beautiful website.

Traffic signs, Mass. Dept. of Transportation, Highway Division.
"MassDOT oversees the installation, maintenance, inspection, and replacement of all traffic signs….These signs may be used on state highways or locally-owned streets and highways, both through MassDOT projects or at the discretion of the city or town."

Utility accommodation policy on state highway right of way, Mass. Dept. of Transportation, Highway Division, 2013.
Includes information on location of utility poles and other utility structures relative to the roads, with reference to federal and state laws and regulations. 

Print sources

Massachusetts municipal law, 2nd edition, MCLE, loose-leaf, Chapter 21 Streets and ways.

Municipal law and practice, 5th ed. (Mass. Practice v.18B), Thomson/West, 2006 with supplement. Section 23.5.
Discusses all aspects of private ways.

Road and access law: researching and resolving common disputes, NBI, [August] 2012.

Road and easement law from A to Z, NBI, 2013.

Rules of paper roads & ancient ways & how they impact title, MCLE New England, 2022.

Understanding paper streets, Chicago Title Insurance Company.     
Paper streets. A paper street is defined as, a "street shown on a recorded plan but never built on the ground." This article discusses people's rights regarding paper streets, their creation, parameters, and termination in Massachusetts, with a focus on easements.

Contact   for Massachusetts law about roads and streets

Last updated: May 1, 2024

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