Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Ketchum correctly reclaims public rights of way


Homeowners along Ketchum's Warm Springs Road over time have begun to consider public rights of way land as their own, landscaping it in most cases until it had all the appearances of their own property.

Now that public convenience and necessity require the city of Ketchum to reclaim this frontage land, property owners in some instances resent giving up what is not theirs.

Although Warm Springs Road always has been a major thoroughfare linking the ski area, it is increasingly a busier road and thus far riskier for pedestrians and bicyclists using the shoulder.

Ketchum now plans to widen the road as well as to develop five-foot-wide bike paths on both sides of the road from the area of the Warm Springs Bridge all the way to Gates Road and the ski lift area.

The needs are obvious. Hundreds of residents and visitors choose bicycles over autos to get around the town, whether as sightseers or as residents moving around town on errands. Ditto for families with baby carriages and others who walk the area.

The city has a responsibility for the safety of users of Warm Springs Road who choose bicycles or foot power. The new paved paths on rights of way are a perfectly sensible and reasonable approach.

As most cities in the Wood River Valley grow, and traffic increases on roadways, officials are discovering a common problem. Public rights of way have become extensions of residential and business property by default through years of casual use and improvement as cities looked the other way.

The law of adverse possession, however, doesn't allow property owners to permanently claim this frontage land as their own.

Therefore, when the day of reckoning ultimately arrives, and a city needs rights of way for public improvements, private property owners are usually surprised—chagrined might be a better word—to learn that some of the land they've landscaped and assumed was their own is, in fact, public property.

When the Ketchum City Council discusses the improvement project for Warm Springs Road, and some residents turn out to object, part of the City Council's objective should be to understand the difficult adjustment property owners are undergoing and to be thorough in explaining the city's course of action.

Change is understandably difficult in a community that for so many years has enjoyed a pace relatively unhurried and tranquil. Now, faced with unavoidable increases in vehicular traffic competing with bicyclists and pedestrians, the city has no choice but to widen Warm Springs Road to accommodate vehicles and provide bike paths.

Any unfortunate mishap due to bicyclists and autos mixing on Warm Springs Road would regrettably be ample evidence that the planned improvement is justified, if not overdue.




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