Public Works

Primitive Roads

Primitive Roads

More people are moving to Chelan County and choosing to live off primitive roads. While living in the unincorporated areas of the county, in places far from a nearby city and surrounded by beautiful scenery, is attractive to many people, accessing or leaving your home via a windy or steep dirt road that is not maintained may be difficult certain times of the year, such as during winter or a rainy spring. Continue reading to understand our policies for maintaining primitive roads.

 

What is a ‘Primitive Road?’

Primitive roads are the lowest classification of county road. They do not meet general road standards, which can include a road’s required width, slope and surface. State law allows counties to designate a road as primitive if it meets ALL the following:

1. It is not classified as part of the county primary road system

2. It has a gravel or earth driving surface

3. It has as an average annual daily traffic of 100 or fewer vehicles

Once a road is designated as primitive, the maintenance of that road is discretionary. The county’s only responsibility for these roads is outlined by state law:

Any road designated as a primitive road shall be marked with signs indicating it is a primitive road, as provided in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, at all places where the primitive road portion begins or connects with a highway other than another primitive road.

No design or signing or maintenance standards or requirements, other than the requirement that warning signs be placed as provided in this section, apply to primitive roads.

The design of a primitive road, any discretionary maintenance and the location, placing or failing to place road signs, other than the requirement that warning signs be placed as provided in this section, shall not be considered in any action for damages brought against a county, or against a county employee or county employees, or both, arising from vehicular traffic on the primitive road.

 

Where are Chelan County’s Primitive Roads?

There are about 108 miles of primitive roads in Chelan County. These roads range from narrow mountain dirt roads leading to U.S. Forest Service lands to wider gravel or dirt roadways people use to access their homes. A list of primitive roads is available here. Or use the map to the left to determine if you live off a primitive road.

 

How Much Maintenance Can You Expect on a Primitive Road?

The short answer is very little, if at all.

As per state statute, the level of maintenance performed is discretionary, as determined by the Board of County Commissioners. Not all primitive roads in Chelan County have the same level of maintenance; however, when maintenance is provided, it is limited. This also means there is no guarantee the current level of service remains the same in the future on a primitive road.

In the warmer months, the amount of maintenance, such as grading to reduce wash boarding and dust control, is limited – if performed at all. 

In the winter, some primitive roads may be plowed while others may not. In the case of a road that may be plowed, it is not a priority. That means it will be plowed last during the week and not at all on a weekend. This is because of not only a lack of staff, equipment and budget but also because higher priority routes – those routes with higher traffic – are plowed first.

This may mean that during a large snow storm event, it may take days before a plow driver reaches a primitive road because keeping priority routes clear takes precedent. See our Road Maintenance page to download maps of snowplow priority routes.

If you have questions about what level of service to expect on the primitive road where you currently live or are planning to live, contact Public Works directly to verify the current level of service.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Chelan County relies heavily on grant funding for any improvements to its roadways; we are a small county with limited funding. Bringing a primitive road up to standard can cost millions of dollars. In addition, primitive roads, because of their road classification and nature, do not qualify for most grants. For these reasons, the chances of a primitive road being improved and paved is highly unlikely.

Your portion of property taxes paid to Chelan County Public Works goes toward the maintenance of the entire road system – not to individual addresses. People who live on primitive roads also use those priority routes to get into town, reach the hospital, shop and more. We are a small county that is heavily reliant on grant dollars for road improvements. Primitive roads are not typically eligible for state and federal grant dollars.

If you come upon a tree, a mudslide or other debris that is across a primitive road or is in the county right-of-way, call emergency dispatch at 911. Rivercom will reach us. If you think we need to look at a hazardous tree that’s close to falling on the road or something that is impacting the county right-of-way, you can try our Report a Problem page.

For more information about choosing to live off a primitive road, see the Code of the West, adopted in 2002 by the Board of County Commissioners.

Posted: 01/17/2024 03:24 PM
Last Updated: 01/18/2024 09:56 AM

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    Public Meeting: Public Canvassing Board Meetings

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    The Canvassing Board of Chelan County, pursuant to RCW 29A.60.160, will hold public meetings at the dates and times listed below. The meetings of the Canvassing Board are open, public meetings under the applicable provisions of chapter 42.30 RCW, and each meeting shall be continued until the activity for which the meeting is held has been completed.

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