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AGO 1953 No. 187 - December 28, 1953
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- DUTY TO ILLUMINATE STATE HIGHWAYS WITHIN CORPORATE LIMITS --HIGHWAYS

RCW 47.24.020 (Chapter 220, Sec. 5, Laws of 1949 as last amended by Chapter 193, Laws of 1953) provides for illumination to be furnished by cities and towns and in cities over 15,000 population for the installation, operation, maintenance, and control of traffic and signals.  The method of control of access has no bearing on cities' responsibility.

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                                                               December 28, 1953

Washington State Highway Commission
Department of Highways
Transportation Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 187

Attention:  Mr. Lorenz Goetz, Secretary

Gentlemen:

            We are in receipt of your letter of December 2, 1953, in which you request our opinion with respect to the provisions of RCW 47.24.020, and the responsibility of cities and towns for illumination and traffic signals on relocated routes of state highways within the corporate limits of cities and towns.

            Our conclusions may be summarized as follows:

            Where the route of the state highway is relocated within the corporate limits of a city or town, regardless of whether the route is relocated on existing streets or is new construction, or both, the city or town at its own expense must provide illumination, and in cities having a population over fifteen thousand must install,  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] maintain, operate and control all traffic or traffic control signals, signs and traffic control devices, subject to approval of the Highway Commission for the installation and type only.  The method of control of access on the route of a relocated highway would have no bearing on the cities' responsibility for proper illumination and traffic control devices.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 47.24.020, which, when enacted as section 5, chapter 220, Laws of 1949, and last amended by chapter 193, Laws of 1953, under the title, "Jurisdiction, control and duty of the state and city * * *.," contains the following provisions with reference to the route of state highways in cities and towns:

            Section 1. "The director shall have no authority to change or establish any grade of any such street without approval of the governing body of such city or town;

            "* * *

            "(6) The city or town at its own expense shall provide street illumination * * *

            "* * *

            "(8) Cities and towns shall have exclusive right to grant franchises over, beneath and upon such streets:  * * *

            "* * *

            "(11) Cities and towns shall regulate and enforce all traffic and parking restrictions on such streets, * * *

            "* * *

            "(13) The director shall install, operate, maintain and control at state expense all traffic control signals, signs and traffic control devices in cities having a population of fifteen thousand or less according to the latest federal census.  Cities and towns having a population in excess of fifteen thousand according to the latest federal census shall install, maintain, operate and control such signals, signs and devices  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] at their own expense, subject to approval of the director for the installation and type only.  For the purpose of this subdivision striping, lane marking and channelization are considered traffic control devices;

            "(14) All revenue from parking meters placed on such streets shall belong to the city or town;

            "(15) Rights of way for such streets shall be acquired by either the city or town or by the state as shall be mutually agreed upon.  Costs of acquiring rights of way may be at the sole expense of the state or at the expense of the city or town or at the expense of the state and the city or town as may be mutually agreed upon.  Title to all rights of way so acquired shall vest in the city or town:  * * *."  (Emphasis supplied)

            It is quite clear from the foregoing statute, and in particular sections 6, 13 and 15, that the route of any state highway within a city or town imposes a definite responsibility upon the city or town for illumination and traffic control devices.  As to what is proper illumination and signals should of course be a matter of agreement between the governing body of the city or town and the State Highway Commission.

            As a matter of common sense and good business practice, these agreements should be entered into at the time that the proposed improvements are approved by the governing body of the city or town.

            The method of control of access on any street or public highway does not change its character as a street or public highway within a city or town.  Before a state highway can be relocated within a city or town by new construction or reconstruction of a part or all thereof the plans must be approved by the governing body of the city or town who has the final and complete say as to where said highway shall be located and constructed within the corporate limits, as provided by RCW 47.52.020 and RCW 47.52.070.  After construction it is a street or public highway in and of the city or town.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Chapter 187, Laws of 1937, codified as RCW 37.75.010 under the general title of "Roads and Bridges ‑ General Provisions" under definitions, Paragraph 4 defines "city streets," every public highway or part thereof, located within the limits of incorporated cities or towns, except alleys.  This is the general law as defined by the courts.

            By section 15 of RCW 47.24.020, as set forth herein, any rights of way acquired within the corporate limits of a city, regardless by whom acquired, the title thereof by statute vests in the city or town.  If the legislature had solely in mind the location or relocation of a state highway upon existing streets, then section 15 of RCW 47.24.020 would be meaningless.  It might be well to point out that our limited access law as originally enacted by the legislature, chapter 202, Laws of 1947, provided for the construction of limited access facilities within incorporated cities and towns by the state, subject to the consent of the local authorities, so this law existed at the time that section 15, RCW 47.24.020 was enacted as a law in 1949.  As set forth in said section 15, it is immaterial as to who shares the expense of construction of the facility, title to the right of way for the facility thus acquired and constructed is in the city or town.

            The state has granted to incorporated cities and towns the right to establish, lay out, construct, alter, etc. streets within its corporate limits.  Such cities and towns have exclusive jurisdiction over its streets until the legislature has manifestly withdrawn some part of this exclusive jurisdiction.

            It is a basic and fundamental obligation of any city or town to control, operate and maintain these streets or public highways within the corporate limits for public use as a proper governmental function of the city or town, and this will be true until such time as the legislature sees fit to authorize the state to acquire fee title and assume complete control and jurisdiction of the routes of state highways within cities.

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General


J. ARNOLD COBLEY
Assistant Attorney General

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