Activity in the Chapel Hill Public Right-of-Way

Post Date:09/23/2015 9:08 AM
If you’ve noticed what seems like a lot of utility crews working along the sides of Chapel Hill’s roads lately, you’re not alone.

Service providers from OWASA to AT&T are continually maintaining and upgrading their infrastructure in order to continue meeting the demands of current and future customers. New providers like Google Fiber will add to the work being done. While this work is designed to bring long-term benefits to the Chapel Hill community, there may be some short-term disruptions, as well.

What is the Public Right-of-Way?
Most of this kind of work takes place in the public rights-of-way, between the public streets and the private parcels bordering the rights-of-way. This additional space alongside the roadway, typically 10-15 feet back from the curb, is owned by the Town of Chapel Hill (or the State of North Carolina, depending on the roadway). It is reserved for all types of infrastructure needed to support living and working in Chapel Hill. This includes street signs, mailboxes, traffic signals, sidewalks, water and sewer lines, and the service lines of many other providers (from gas and electric to TV and internet).

In some residential neighborhoods, particularly those without sidewalks or where utilities are installed underground, it can be difficult to determine where a homeowner’s private parcel ends and the public right-of-way begins. Sometimes property owners choose to maintain the right-of-way, even though they are not required to do so. All of this can lead to confusion when a crew arrives and begins digging holes or trimming vegetation in order to perform their work.

Permission to Work in the Public Right-of-Way
The Town cannot grant permission for a provider to encroach on privately-owned property. However, as long as the provider has submitted a plan and received a permit from the Town, they are allowed to enter the public right-of-way and to clear vegetation and other materials that may impede their work. This includes overhanging tree limbs and ornamental plantings growing in the right-of-way. Any vegetation that is cut down should be removed by the provider. Where land disturbance is required, standard practice is to rake the area smooth of any rocks, then add grass seed and mulch.

Notifying Residents of Work in the Public Right-of-Way
For larger projects, the Town encourages providers to send out advance notification to nearby property owners, letting them know when crews will be in the neighborhood, what kind of work is taking place, and who to contact with questions. This is typically done through the mail or by leaving door-hangers on the front doors of residences.

For More Information
Community members with questions about work being performed in the Town’s right-of-way should contact Public Works at 919-969-5100 or Those looking for the latest updates on Community Broadband topics, including the work of AT&T and Google Fiber, should visit the Town’s Community Broadband web page,

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