When Should Gravel Roads Be Used?

Public Works Resource
September 11, 2012 — 1,211 views  
Become a Bronze Member for monthly eNewsletter, articles, and white papers.

Many towns, businesses and individuals have switched from asphalt to gravel roads in the past few years. The main advantage of using gravel is that it costs about one-tenth as much as pavement. However, it isn't appropriate for every type of road. There are also some health and safety concerns associated with gravel.

Considerations

It is best to put gravel on roads with relatively little traffic. The Maine Department of Transportation recommends dirt or gravel for a road if fewer than 50 vehicles use it on a typical day. To ensure safety, cars must travel at low to moderate speeds and avoid tailgating. Asphalt is preferable for roads that buses, heavy trucks or bicycles use on a regular basis.

Gravel is suitable for flat roads and streets with gradual inclines. Some drivers find it difficult to ascend steep hills with this type of surface, particularly when using heavy vehicles. Tires may lose traction, especially if the road becomes wet. Heavy rain is more likely to damage gravel roads in mountainous areas.

Potential Risks

When the weather turns dry, cars create large clouds of gravel dust. A study conducted in Montana found that the dust can cause respiratory health problems for drivers and residents, according to the Daily Inter Lake. Laboratory tests have revealed that it damages the lungs of mice and puts them at risk for emphysema.

Poor traction contributes to many traffic accidents, especially when people drive too quickly. Clouds of dust limit visibility as well. Manitoba Public Insurance reports that almost 17 percent of fatal accidents take place on gravel roads. Warning signs and lower speed limits could mitigate this problem to an extent. Loose stones also dent vehicles and crack windshields.

Gravel roads usually deteriorate more quickly than their paved counterparts. Maintenance costs exceed those of asphalt roads by 69 percent, according to Minnesota Public Radio. Improper snow removal may cause damage, particularly when temperatures remain near freezing. As a result of plowing, residents often find numerous gravel stones in their lawns. Such roads also tend to become muddy during rain storms.

Basically, the best roads for gravel are relatively flat and don't have heavy traffic or nearby homes. Even under optimal conditions, this surface material usually necessitates more road and vehicle maintenance. However, it is also important to fully consider the benefits of saving over $100,000 per mile. This may lead to a pay raise for employees, a tax reduction for residents or the introduction of new services.

Public Works Resource