Both Class V and Class VI roads are public roads, meaning the entire traveling public have the right to use them. The big difference between the two is that municipalities have the obligation to maintain Class V roads, but not Class VI roads. Maintenance can be expensive, so municipalities often try to keep the number of Class V roads to a minimum. (Whether this is good public policy or not is a question for each town or city to decide.)
Class VI roads often provide access to many members of the taxpaying public, and can be important cogs in a town or city’s transportation network. Emergency vehicles need to travel safely on them as well. One irony is an abutter cannot improve the “surface improved for travel” of a Class VI road without the consent of the very body that is not obligated to maintain it. See RSA 346:9 through 11.
But what can a town do if a Class VI road is washed-out? One answer is to designate the road an emergency lane under RSA 231:59-a. This option is available for private roads as well.
The governing body (board of selectmen in towns) may, following a public hearing, declare the relevant class VI highway, private way, or portion thereof, as an emergency lane, and make written findings, recorded in the minutes of the meeting, of a public need for keeping such lane passable by emergency vehicles.
An emergency land designation empowers a municipality to remove brush, repair washouts or culverts, or any other work deemed necessary to render such way passable by firefighting equipment and rescue or other emergency vehicles.
An emergency lane designation generally is temporary, and does not mean the town assumes responsibility to repair and maintain the road into the future. “Utilization of this section shall be at the sole and unfettered discretion of a town and its officials, and no landowner or any other person shall be entitled to damages by virtue of the creation of emergency lanes, or the failure to create them, or the maintenance of them, or the failure to maintain them, and no person shall be deemed to have any right to rely on such maintenance.”
For more information, see RSA 231:59-a.