Municipalities have ownership rights over most highways within their boundaries. The B.C. government continues to have ownership of and jurisdiction over arterial (provincial) highways that are located in municipalities, and has a right of resumption of municipally-owned highways for specified purposes.
The Community Charter defines highways to include streets, roads, lanes, bridges, viaducts and any other way open to public use, other than private rights of way on private property. That includes, for example, sidewalks.
The property of most highways in a municipality is vested in (belongs to) a municipality, subject to the common law right of public passage (right to use the property as a highway). In addition, the municipality has a right of possession of some highways that it does not own, giving it the authority to maintain those roads. The B.C. government has ownership of and jurisdiction over most roads in non-municipal (rural) areas - for example, those roads in regional district electoral areas.
Rights & Restrictions Related to Highways
Municipal ownership and regulation of highways ensures that municipalities can manage their highways in a way that meets the needs of their communities. It also provides control over a potential land resource.
Municipal highway ownership is accompanied by other powers. For example, under the Community Charter municipal council has the authority to:
- Grant a licence of occupation or an easement in respect of a highway owned by the municipality
- Permit an encroachment on a highway owned by the municipality
- Close a highway owned by the municipality and dispose of the property.
Additionally, municipalities have the authority to regulate highways within their boundaries as a municipal service and to regulate and prohibit uses of a highway. That includes the authority to:
- Temporarily restrict or prohibit traffic on highways
- Require owners adjacent to highways to do various things to protect the highway
- Restrict the common law right of passage by the public over a municipal highway as part of any authority it has in relation to highways
- Enter into various agreements, including an agreement to exempt persons, in exchange for reasonable compensation, from a municipal bylaw that regulates or prohibits extraordinary traffic on municipal highways.
In addition to providing these authorities, the Community Charter imposes certain restrictions on a municipality. These include:
- Only regulating or prohibiting traffic and parking on highways in accordance with the Motor Vehicle Act
- Requiring approval of the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure before regulating or prohibiting traffic on arterial (provincial) highways.
Municipal highways that form the boundary between two municipalities are under the joint jurisdiction of those municipalities. Both municipalities are required to keep the highway open and maintained, unless they agree otherwise. A dispute between the municipalities that cannot be resolved would be subject to the dispute resolution processes set out in the Community Charter, including being settled by arbitration.
Closure or Disposal of Highway
Municipalities have authority to close a municipal highway, remove its dedication as a highway, raise title of the land and transfer that title without having to apply to the B.C.government for a Crown grant; however, that authority is subject to the B.C government's right of resumption.
Councils may want to consider closing a highway and removing the highway dedication as part of a major community redevelopment, as a rationalization of their road network system, or as a way to remove unused highways from their land bank and generate revenue or create a park.
There are requirements and restrictions that apply to the closure or disposal of municipal highways, including restrictions to protect certain property accesses and a utility operator's need for certainty with respect to its transmission and distribution facilities. B.C government approval is needed for municipal highway closures within a specified distance from arterial highways.
Municipal highways may be created in various ways. That includes an agreement between a property owner and the municipality to reserve land for highway purposes, or the municipality collecting development cost charges from a developer to fund construction of a highway.
Most commonly, highways are created when land is subdivided for development, and the approving officer requires that the owner provide land for a new highway in the subdivision or the widening of an existing highway in or bordering on the subdivision.