Massachusetts law about roads and streets

A compilation of 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, discontinuance and subdivision control. Includes detailed references to cases and statutes.

Massachusetts laws

Private ways

Scenic roads

State highways

Sidewalks

  • 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.

Selected case law

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. "the 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

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."

Manual on uniform traffic control devices (MUTCD), Federal Highway Administration, 2009 edition, with 2012 revisions.
MUTCD defines the standards used nationwide to install and maintain the signs, signals, and pavement markings on all streets and highways. See also: Massachusetts amendments to the 2009 MUTCD (2012).

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.

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?

Project development and design guide, Mass. Dept. of Transportation, Highway Division, January 2006.
Includes standard road design elements, as well as aesthetic and wildlife considerations. According to the site, this manual "serves as a national model for developing better road and bridge projects."

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.

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. 

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Last updated: November 1, 2022
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