It has been recognized that it is in the public interest for utility facilities to jointly use the right-of-way of public roads and streets when such use and occupancy does not adversely affect highway or traffic safety, or otherwise impair the highway or its aesthetic quality, and does not conflict with the provisions of Federal, State, or local laws and regulations. The opportunity for such joint use avoids the additional cost of acquiring separate right-of-way for the exclusive accommodation of utilities. As a result, the right-of-way of highways, particularly local roads and streets, is often used to provide public services to abutting residents as well as to serve conventional highway needs.
Most utility considerations involve the following:
- Accommodation of utility facilities on highway right-of-way. The States must decide if they want utilities on highway right-of-way, including freeways, and if so to what extent and under what conditions. Whatever they decide must be documented in an FHWA-approved utility accommodation policy. A State may permit certain utilities and exclude others. Fees charged for utility use are at a State's discretion and may be used as the State sees fit. If a State so chooses, it can prohibit any longitudinal utility installations.
- Use of Federal-aid highway funds for the relocation of utility facilities. Since the initiation of the Federal-aid highway program in 1916, utility relocation work has been eligible for Federal-aid participation as a construction cost item to the extent the State was obligated to pay for such work. During the early years, the use of Federal-aid funds for utility relocations was quite limited; however, with the advent of the Interstate Program in the 1950s, it became a much more common practice for the States to use their highway funds to reimburse utilities for relocation costs.