Answer 1: For hazardous conditions on county roads during normal working hours (excluding holidays, weekends, evenings, etc.) please call the Public Works Department Main Office at 503-397-5090. Department staff answers the phone during regular working hours and the County will immediately respond to all emergency road conditions. After hours or during holidays, please call 911 and dispatch will contact the appropriate department personnel for response to the emergency condition.
Answer 2: It is never a safe condition to drive over any wire laying across a road, unless motioned to do so by a flagger or utility worker. Never exit a vehicle that is in contact with a utility wire as the rubber tires on the vehicle may provide insulation from high voltage electricity. Even though there may not be any sparking, or you are confident that the wire is a phone line, there still may be high voltage electricity in the line that could be fatal. Depending on the severity of the storm, it may take several hours before the County or the utility company can get to the site to post signs about the wires or to be certain that the wires are de-energized. De-energized lines can also be re-energized by home generators not wired properly, and TV cables can also be energized if they come in contact with power lines. You cannot be certain if the wire is a “live wire” simply by looking at it. Be safe, not sorry!
Answer 3: The Columbia County Public Works Department has an online submission form for work requests. Or you can call the main office at 503-397-5090. The department documents all work requests and complaints made by phone or by email. Public Works Department staff will investigate all work requests submitted.
Answer 4: The Public Works Department’s most common complaint about county roads is potholes. It is understood that potholes can cause vehicle alignment and suspension problems and therefore it is important to fill the potholes as quickly as possible after they are noticed or reported. The Public Works Department strives to be effective and efficient in our operations and does its best to do quality work in any given situation. Most repaired potholes remain in decent condition until such time that a more permanent fix can be placed at the site, however due to poor weather during the repair or the poor conditions of the road, some patches fail. Many potholes occur during winter and stormy weather, yet the potholes must be filled during these weather conditions to prevent further damage to vehicles. Water in potholes does affect the quality of the repair and can be the main reason a repair will fail. Many times the pothole repair will remain in good condition but the road surrounding the repair will fail.
Answer 5: Columbia County’s Building Division will not issue a permit to build a structure on a property along a county road unless it is documented that the property has an approved Road Access Permit from the Public Works Department. Any construction activity within the right-of-way to place power lines, water lines, gas lines or any other utility line underground requires authorization from the Public Works Department through a Public Road Application and Construction Permit.
Answer 6: In general, the Public Works Department desires to have all fences located at least 10 feet away from the road surface however the department has no jurisdiction for fences on private property and therefore some fences can be closer than 10 feet. Without exact survey markers it is hard to judge in most cases, so we typically go with the 10-foot rule where exact property lines are not known. This gives enough room for traffic to feel safe and for road maintenance crews to maintain the side of the road. Any construction activity within the right-of-way to include the construction of a fence, requires authorization from the Public Works Department through a Public Road Application and Construction Permit. Fences located on private property are not regulated by the Public Works Department however the County’s Land Development Services Department does have regulations for fences on private property. For specific questions regarding fencing on private property please call Land Development Services at 503-397-1501 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Answer 7: Although it is not an official record, the best quick reference for right-of-way widths of streets and roadways is found on the Columbia County web maps.
Disclaimer: These sites will let you search for and examine property in Columbia County, Oregon. The information used, is derived from the Columbia County Assessor's Tax Roll. The information is provided for informational purposes only. These are not the official records of the Assessor's Office. Columbia County does not guarantee the accuracy of information on this website; information is subject to change without notice. Any use of, or actions taken based upon, any of the information contained on or accessed through this website is done entirely at your own risk. Columbia County assumes no responsibility with regard to the selection, performance, or use of information on this website. By proceeding to the A&T Web Query or the Columbia County Web Maps, you agree that you understand this disclaimer.
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Exact location of the rights-of-way and property lines must be determined by a survey! General locations of rights-of-way can be measured from the centerline of the road however this can sometimes be significantly different from the legal boundary.
Answer 8: There is a common misunderstanding about the difference between “County Roads” and other public roads that developers construct that are accepted by the County, typically in rural subdivisions.
County Roads are those roads designated as a “County Road” by the Columbia County Board of Commissioners which gives the Public Works Department the responsibility for maintenance. Unless the Board of Commissioners specifically designates the road as a County Road, the road is classed as a “Local Access Road”. As developers construct new roads in subdivisions or partitions, the plat typically dedicates the right-of-way as a public road and the County accepts these roads for use by the public. Most often, these roads are not designated as a “County Road” and therefore, they remain classified as a “Local Access Road”. Even though the County has accepted the construction of a public road in a subdivision, the Department has no responsibility for maintenance of the road unless the Board of Commissioners specifically designates the road as a “County Road”. If this specific terminology is not used in the acceptance by the County, the road remains classified as a “Local Access Road” and will not be maintained by the Public Works Department.
Because current County Roads are in such poor condition due to insufficient funding for improvements, the County has not accepted more roads into the system for decades.
ORS 368.031 specifically states that the County can only spend moneys on Local Access Roads if specific conditions are met. The Public Works Department by law cannot spend funds on these roads in the same manner as for “County Roads”.
If you want to see the specifics of the State law regarding Local Access Roads see Oregon Revised Statutes Chapter 368, regarding County Roads.
Answer 9: In Columbia County, ODOT maintains:
To report immediate road hazards (such as traffic signal outage or debris in travel lane), you may call 1-888-275-6368 and choose option 1. Dispatch Centers operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also submit a report online. You can also review the most current road conditions.
Answer 10: Uniform design, application, and treatment of all traffic control devices on a nationwide basis is necessary in order to promote highway safety and efficiency, and to maintain respect of the signs from road users. Inappropriate use of traffic control devices at one location may cause disrespect for the same sign at a different location where it may be critical. For this reason, establishment of speed zones is regulated by the State of Oregon to specifically be consistent across all jurisdictions statewide.
Answer 11: In the absence of posted speed limits, Oregon state law gives motorists the following designated speeds:
15 mph – Alleys, narrow residential streets
20 mph – Business districts, school zones
25 mph – Residential districts, public parks, ocean shores;
55 mph – Open and rural highways, trucks on interstate highways
65 mph – Autos on interstate highways
The Basic Rule: Designated and posted speeds are not the final word in Oregon as all travel on public streets and highways is subject to the Basic Rule. The Basic Rule is both a safety valve and an acknowledgement that drivers are able to act independently, reasonably and with good judgment. The Rule states that a motorist must drive at a speed that is reasonable and prudent at all times by considering other traffic, road and weather conditions, dangers at intersections and any other conditions that affect safety and speed. The Basic Rule does not allow motorists to drive faster than the posted speed or designated speed. Instead, the Rule expects drivers to be responsible for their own actions.
Answer 12: Columbia County currently does not allow the placement of speed bumps within public road rights-of-way under its jurisdiction.
Answer 13: Fallen trees along roadsides are the property of the adjacent property owner from which they originated. Even if the tree is within the right-of-way, Columbia County Public Works Department recognizes that these trees belong to the adjacent property owner. Most County Road rights-of-way are similar to easements in that the County does not actually “own” the property, rather it has the right to construct and maintain a road within that right-of-way. The underlying rights of the property (including the trees) are the rights of the property owner from which the right-of-way originated, and without significant research on the matter, the Public Works Department assumes it is the adjacent property owner.
Since the County does not have the rights to the fallen trees, the County cannot authorize individuals (other than the underlying property owner) to cut the tree into firewood.
From a traffic safety and maintenance perspective, road maintenance crews will remove trees to the side of the road to open up lanes of travel and make the road safe and the Public Works Department appreciates and encourages the safe removal of the fallen trees from rights-of-way by others when possible.
An individual wishing to cut a tree for firewood must have written permission (required by the Oregon Department of Forestry for the removal of any forest product) from the underlying (typically adjacent) property owner. The operation of cutting the firewood must be performed off of the road surface so as not to hinder traffic movement and must be performed in a safe manner.
Answer 14: The County Public Works Department encourages residents and property owners to cut and remove vegetation along the frontage of your property as long as it can be performed in a safe manner. Roadside vegetation in Columbia County grows faster than can be controlled by the Department and the assistance of local residents is sincerely appreciated.
Answer 15: Roadside vegetation control is the second most common request to the Public Works Department behind pothole repair. The Department realizes that it is very important to motorists to have the vegetation cut from alongside the roads.
The Department uses large tractor mounted hydraulic mowers to cut vegetation. Because of limited manpower (funding) the Department cannot cut the vegetation alongside every road every year. For this reason, the Department uses the highest production brush cutter that is reasonably available. These machines are constantly being repaired due to the rugged nature of this operation and therefore it is important to have equipment that is massive enough to handle the impact.
These large machines remove vegetation more by impact than by slice which breaks the vegetation and leaves a ragged edge that will look very rough for several months until new growth develops. In our experience, while it may look messy for a time, a roadside will return to looking normal within the next growing season.
Answer 16: The Columbia County Public Works Department recognizes that the trees adjacent to the County Roads are the right and the responsibility of the adjacent property owner, regardless if the tree is in the right-of-way or not. Adjacent property owners can harvest trees adjacent to the road even in the right-of-way, however adjacent property owners should also control the trees from blowing over and falling onto the County Roads.
Answer 17: Timber Farming is a primary economic resource for Columbia County. The private timber industry provides many jobs for the citizens of the County and provides revenues for other services that are enjoyed by most other County residents.
Columbia County must work with the timber industry to allow for the safe, efficient and effective removal of timber from the forests to the mills. This can only be accomplished by the use of County Roads. Many small timber land owners would be much more significantly impacted if a weight or vehicle restriction was placed on the only road that accesses their property.
Heavy trucks do make much more of an impact to the road conditions than any other vehicle. For this reason truck owners pay much more of a statewide transportation fee than automobile owners and this revenue is shared with Counties as a way to mitigate their impact.
Some roads can have a weight restriction placed on them to limit heavy trucks, however there are many factors to consider when making this decision and it must be authorized by the Board of County Commissioners.
Answer 18: The Columbia County Public Works Department will not spray herbicides along the frontage of a resident’s property provided that they agree to maintain the vegetation along the frontage to a desirable standard:
The Department will provide “No Spray” signs for the property owner to notify the County’s herbicide applicators not to spray at that location.
The “No Spray Request Form and Agreement to Monitor and Maintain Vegetation Along Road Right-of-Way” can be obtained by calling the main office at 503-397-5090.
Answer 19: In the past, the County Commissioners and the County Budget Committee have contributed property tax supported funds to the Public Works Department in the following amounts:
As of Fiscal Year 20-21, the percentage of the total Public Works Department budget supported by property taxes is about 2%.
Answer 20: Nearly 85% of funding that the Columbia County Public Works Department receives for operating (excluding grants and Capital projects) comes from the State Motor Vehicle Tax Apportionment.
This funding comes from various sources that go into the State Highway Fund including gas taxes, vehicles registration fees, Large Truck Weight-Mile taxes, and other revenue. Oregon Counties receive an apportionment of this revenue based on a formula that takes into account the number of road miles in the county, number of registered vehicles, fuel receipts for fuel sold, population, and other factors.
Other operating revenue for the Department comes from the Aggregate Mining Fee (~ 10%) which is charged to excavations in the County and is intended to compensate for the damage that dump trucks cause to the roads.
The Department also gets minor revenue from Road Access and Road Construction permits it issues for new construction on County Roads (~ 1%).
Answer 21: How the Columbia County Public Works Department prioritizes all the competing needs of a 550-mile road system is a valid concern. All of the activities we perform on an annual basis to maintain the road system is limited by the resources we have to tackle these needs. We strive to do the best we can with the resources we have and tend to be very reactive to what is most urgent at any given time. The Department acknowledges this is not the most efficient way to manage the road system and makes every effort to be proactive when we can to minimize further deterioration of the overall pavement condition. At current funding and staffing levels, we are still fighting a losing battle with pavement conditions.
The Columbia County Public Works Department is the poorest funded Oregon County Road agency in Western Oregon. Below is a comparison of Oregon Counties and funding for roads compiled from the ODOT Roads and Streets questionnaire.
Being in this position is not an excuse. The citizens of Columbia County deserve a safe and efficient transportation system that is well maintained and improves as the community grows. Unfortunately, without increases in transportation funding dedicated to maintaining what we already have, things are not going to change into the future. Columbia County is continually looking for new revenue sources and is planning to involve Columbia County citizens in further discussions about new revenue options. Please watch for further information on this.
Answer: 22: The Public Works Department will pick up dead deer and elk from the road right-of-way. During working hours please call the main office at 503-397-5090 to report the animal and we will remove it usually the same day. After hours, and if the dead animal is a road hazard, please call 911 and dispatch will contact a Department employee to address the situation.
The Department does not remove pets or animals of similar size from road rights-of-way. These smaller animals do not present a road hazard and most often owners of the pets prefer to take them and give them a proper burial.
Answer 23: Culverts that pass under driveways are the responsibility of the property owner. If replacement of the culvert will improve the drainage along the County Road or otherwise benefit the County Road, the Public Works Department may replace the pipe if the property owner pays for the culvert. The minimum pipe dimensions for driveway culverts is 12 inches in diameter and 30 feet in length.
Answer 24:Columbia County’s Stormwater and Erosion Control Ordinance for single family residences states, “Outside soil hazard areas, roof runoff shall not be piped or channeled directly to a ditch, stream, or other water resource. Instead, roof runoff shall be infiltrated into the ground from downspouts or allowed to disperse naturally on the ground. In all cases, however, runoff shall be directed away from septic systems.”
Runoff discharges from a site should occur at their natural location and elevation, unless runoff is conveyed in a constructed system approved by the County. Surface runoff exiting a parcel shall be discharged with adequate energy dissipaters within the development site to prevent downstream damage.
Surface water will naturally run downhill to a natural watercourse or roadside ditch. For protection of the environment and enhancement of fish populations, property owners should make every effort to control erosion from their property and, where feasible, should direct rainwater back into the ground and not pipe it to the roadside ditch.
Answer 25: Surface water runoff will run downhill in the most natural watercourse to a culvert location that is usually at the lowest elevation of a County Road then discharges through a culvert under the County Road. It is very rare for the County to change the location of the cross culvert since the original culverts were most likely installed 50 or more years ago at the most logical or historical crossing.
Changing the location of a cross culvert would most likely affect a property owner at the new location by increasing the water level at that location which could increase flooding or erosion where it did not exist before. Water must be allowed to discharge through culverts at historic locations where the water has always gone.
It is important for environmental considerations to allow stormwater to soak into the ground at wetland areas as much as possible as long as the water will not adversely affect the road.
Answer 26: Work within wetlands and waterways is regulated by the Oregon Department of State Lands. Any work by either removal of material or filling of material in wetlands will most likely require a Department of State Lands permit.
Answer 27: Snowfall in Columbia County occurs at various locations and at varying times. Most often snowfall occurs at the highest locations first which includes the summit of Apiary Road near Camp Wilkerson and the summit of Scappoose-Vernonia Road. However sometimes the east wind carries cold weather to the Scappoose area first and sometimes the northwest winds causes snowfall in the Clatskanie area first.
The Public Works Department staff puts in long hours during the winter to spray anti-icing chemical on select roads to prevent freezing, place sand on icy roads, and plow snow.
In anticipation of freezing conditions and slippery roads, the Department has anti-icing application equipment to spray chemical onto County Roads with the highest traffic volume first. The Department sprays as much product of anti-icing chemical as can be sprayed in one day at the prescribed rates. Without rain, the anti-icing chemical can last for several days.
Whenever an inch of snow or more accumulates on the road surfaces, the Department will begin to plow the snow. This occurs most commonly in the upper elevations of Apiary Road and Scappoose-Vernonia Road first. Because these are also our busiest roads and have significant truck traffic, these roads typically get our greatest attention and first attention for plowing. If the snowfall continues to pile up on the roads, the Department will continue to plow without adding sanding gravel because it is not a good use of limited resources to apply sanding gravel only to plow it off within a couple hours. After the snowfall becomes light, an application of sanding gravel will be made to the packed snow surface.
As snowfall accumulates in the lower elevations, the Department will move out to the County Roads in those locations. Again those roads of highest elevation with the greatest volume of traffic will be plowed first. The County has four maintenance districts and each maintenance district will use this same strategy for snow plowing. After the initial roads of highest volume have been plowed, the crews will then plow the remaining roads of high snowfall accumulation.
During this period of time, the crews are in constant contact with each other and their supervisor to determine the highest priority for plowing, which is dependent on the conditions at the time. The crews put in a great amount of overtime hours to help keep the roads as safe as possible and to clear as many roads as we can throughout the days of snowy weather.
Answer 28: During periods of heavy snowfall, the Public Works Department maintenance crews are extremely busy and put in a very large amount of overtime to keep the roads plowed and safe for travel. During extreme conditions, a large berm of snow can roll off the snow plow blade and can pile at the end of a driveway causing an inconvenience for residents. Maintenance crews have very little control on the size or location of the berm of snow, and any attempt to plow snow off of driveways with the large plow can cause damage to the driveway, mailbox or other private property. With thousands of driveways in this condition, the only resolution to eliminate the berm from driveways is to not plow the snow at all. Some agencies elect not to plow snow for this reason. Columbia County chooses to plow snow because the benefits to the travelling public and emergency services tend to outweigh these concerns.
That being said, if a resident experiences extreme difficulty due to the berm of snow created by a snowplow, they can call the Department Main Office at 503-397-5090 to make the Department aware of the situation and perhaps a smaller plow can be dispatched to remove the berm of snow at some time in the future.
Answer 29: Snow can be very heavy when it is wet. All snow plow operators know that this heavy snow can cause mailboxes to fall over when the snow is plowed and therefore the crew is cautious with this in mind. If the snow plow blade hits a mailbox, the Public Works Department will certainly replace the mailbox. However, mailboxes should be able to withstand the force of the snow. Because of the expense and inconvenience to homeowners, if the homeowner can wait sufficient time (days) for County crews to complete the snow plow operations, the County will repair or replace the mailbox.
If you feel your mailbox is damaged due to plowing, please call the Department Main Office at 503-397-5090 to make the Department aware of the situation.
Answer 30: The federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) states that centerline stripes cannot be placed on paved roads less than16 feet in width unless an engineering determination has been made to indicate that the centerline stripe would be beneficial. It also states that centerline stripes should be placed on rural roads that have a paved width of 18 feet and an ADT (Average Daily Traffic count) of 3,000 vehicles per day or greater. Nearly all County Roads in Columbia County are less than 3,000 ADT.
Striping narrow roads forces drivers to always drive to the right of the centerline regardless of traffic conditions, otherwise the motorist would be subject to a citation. On many narrow roads this means having one tire on the shoulder which quickly deteriorates the edge of the pavement and can be unsafe. Because of this, stripes on narrow roads tend to wear away quickly because vehicles drive on the stripes.
On a narrow road without a stripe on centerline, motorists are permitted to use both sides of the road except when another vehicle approaches and the motorist is required to give at least half of the roadway to the approaching vehicle.
Striping all paved roads would be expensive and is not necessarily safer in all situations.
Answer 31: Striping of the roads can only be accomplished when the pavement is dry. If the centerline paint does not dry quickly, the paint will be picked up by tires and splattered on the sides of vehicles, making motorists very unhappy.
Winter is when the centerline stripes are needed most, and therefore the most important time to stripe roads is in the fall when the roads are still dry. Centerline stripes do wear out, especially when the stripes are driven over frequently. With our climate, stripes cannot be painted until about the first of July since we seem to always have wet weather in June.
Answer 32: Dust control is a very big concern for citizens that live on gravel roads. Summertime dust can be atrocious, and possibly a health concern. The Public Works Department does not have the time nor the resources to place dust control on all 165 miles of gravel County Roads it maintains. However, if a resident pays for the product (with some restrictions), the Department will place it on a County-maintained road. Currently the Department charges $60 per 100 feet of roadway for the product, with a minimum of 800 feet in length (or a minimum charge of $480). This rate may change without notice.
Applying dust control palliative is usually work that is on top of a heavy workload during the summer months. Because of this, there may be some lag time between a resident’s order for dust control and when it gets accomplished. We appreciate your patience.
Answer 33: The Columbia County Public Works Department utilizes the DumpStoppers Program in coordination with Columbia County Land Development Code Compliance and the Columbia County Corrections Crew to pick up and remove the litter alongside roadways. To request roadside litter pickup, please submit a work request.
Periodically we find that couches, washing machines, roofing shingles, etc. have been dumped alongside a roadway. For site specific pick-up of trash dumped at a particular location, please notify Columbia County’s DumpStoppers program by submitting a DumpStoppers complaint form or by calling 503-397-7229.
Answer 34: Columbia County does not have a formal Adopt-A-Road program at this time.