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How to deal with a steep gravel driveway with challenging ruts and fun surprises

 
Posts: 38
Location: Pompano Beach, FL -> Roane County, TN
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What I have is a very long winding steep incline steep decline loose gravel driveway on top of hard-packed red clay.

There are various washouts and ruts though there are a few culverts already installed.

I've been doing a little research and what it looks like people do is just use a box grader to fix these ruts. Sure, it'd be great to have the driveway a little less extreme but, no ruts would at least make it passable.
IMG_20200908_184621.jpg
A washed out driveway
A washed out driveway
IMG_20200908_184306.jpg
Washout on a driveway
Washout on a driveway
 
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ive found it necessary to run a box blade or something over it every once in a while. I'm not all that far where you are and the soil compositions are probably very similar if not the same. new to me all my neighbors call the driveway dirt , churt, around here and it forms pretty good base but has to be dressed now and then.
 
Posts: 16
Location: Ozarks
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I have a rather steep drive in the Ozarks that had been neglected for about 30 years before I started rebuilding it. I managed with a box blade and a front end loader. I don't live on site but hope to retire there. So I would have a week or 2 to work and then come back in a few months to see how things are holding up. My neighbor  started his homestead in the 70s and told me countless times during my efforts to build and then rebuild my road that I really need to be on site to watch the water during a large rain event. I have been on my land during storms that dropped as much as 6 inches of rain over a 24 to 36 hour periods. I thought I had a good idea of where the water wanted to go and installed what I thought was an excess of culverts, water bars  and sloping the road as best I could to get the water off the roadway as quickly as possible. My road held up just fine for about 2 years.
I happened to be at my cabin last year  for a storm that dropped 2 1/2 inches of rain in just under 1 hour.  All I can say is WOW!!! I was astounded by the volume of water that came down my hill. Places that I had never seen moving water and had no evidence of moving water in the past had streams large enough to clear leaves, branches and fist size rocks. What I thought was a well designed and graded driveway had nearly all of the crushed limestone washed off the entire length of the drive.
So I will pass along some very good advise I received, You really need to be on site during a large storm. Get out there and play in the rain to get an idea of how the water wants to move.  I have only been maintaining my drive for about 12 years but for me I think it takes less money and time to over build, than to rebuild after every storm. The catch is I really did have to be there and see for myself to see what I was trying to control/redirect.
 
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Do you have a tractor or you are using a shovel to clear the path?
 
gardener
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Chad,

I agree with everything Marty said.  For my part, I would suggest getting some crushed limestone on that driveway and really pack it in.  My driveway is only 450' long, but it got started on a pure limestone dust bed.  Trucks eventually worked that in and then we added a 50:50 dust:3/4" gravel a couple of times.  The dust will really pack in better than loose gravel and while you will still have some erosion, this should be much better than at present.

I would say a box blade would be a very good investment, but considering the length you have, a land plane might be the better option.  The land plane is a one-trick-pony that only grades roadways, but it has a very easy learning curve and it does that job very, very well.  Also, they excel at long runs like your driveway.

In time, the limestone will turn to a very hard surface and though it will rut from time to time, a box blade or land plane can work that out.

Good luck!

Eric
 
gardener
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The Permaculture principle here is "Improve your land in order of greatest permanence."  

What does this mean?  Dig your swales and earthworks before you plant your trees . . . you want to put in the physical landscape that will last for decades/centuries BEFORE you plant the biological stuff that will last for years.

In applying this to your steep driveway, I would think that before you turn your attention on grading and surface fixes, you'll need to give serious attention to they hydrology of your site.  Water run-off appears to be the biggest problem, so until you engineer drainage and such, you'll constantly find your roadway washing out.

The second permie phrase that comes to mind is "The problem is the solution".  All that water!  It looks like an opportunity if you can channel it in some meaningful way to provide the moisture that feeds an orchard or pond.  
 
Marty Mac
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Location: Ozarks
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I really wish I had enough land to implement some of Marcos more ambitious stacking suggestions.

In reality the amount of water can vary so greatly and I only have a few acres and hundreds of acres up hill from me. The best stacking function I could come up with was building gravel catchments wherever I had room. With hopes of being able to reuse some of the gravel that is bound to get washed off.
 
pollinator
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That one pic almost looks like a rivulet running right through your road. Maybe a culvert pipe there (hopefully big enough to handle the heavy rains) w/ crushed limestone over top would help those areas that are very prone to washing out. Also, on the downhill side maybe a dam of some kind (earth, wood, stone, etc) to try and catch any gravel that might still wash away
 
gardener
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Storms are only getting bigger! We just had twice September's "Average" rainfall in 3 days, so I get how the exceptional storms can blow away the best plans!

Sooo... I agree with many of the above suggestions and you may be able to plan for "slightly" above average while waiting to see what the extremes look like. Think Lancaster's efforts in Tuscon where he started high in the watershed building lots of small water diversion/infiltration potholes with plants to slow water where it fell?

I'm assuming you've done the obvious of considering if there's a better place for the road? Of course it might only look like a better place until the first exceptional storm goes through, but a more gradual slope makes a big difference. I'm often pushing carts up and down some of our slopes, so I really notice how much difference a few degrees makes. We needed a new "road" from a field area down into a forested area and had to bring in rocky fill. A friend was helping and was discussing it with Hubby and I came along and said, "the bottom of the slope needs to be "here" - 55 ft from where they were standing and at least 25 feet from where they thought the slope would end. They looked at me as it I was crazy, but they did it. If my garden cart has a heavy load on it, I *still* struggle to get to the top! Wheel-chair ramps aren't supposed to have more than a 10% grade and the resulting road is certainly a higher grade than that, but I can make it with most loads with only wheels to assist rather than fossil fuels which I try to reserve for when they're necessary.

Assuming you need some of it fixed "now" while you start working on the big-picture stuff, I read about someone getting a bunch of cheap/free chain-link fencing and laying it down as a road surface which helped to keep the rock in place and gave good traction. Just watch for it wearing out, but if you aren't expecting to drive on it 10 time/day, that might be a temporary solution. Your road may be too twisty-turny for that from the picture.
 
Chad Kovac
Posts: 38
Location: Pompano Beach, FL -> Roane County, TN
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What what an amazing site this is. More on that at the end.

I've been on the land for a bit and I've watched a little bit we we actually got to experience some rain firsthand on the driveway and so I'm pretty familiar with what's going on with the driveway.  By no means does this mean that I know where the water is going or where it's even coming from so I will figure that out. Hopefully I can capture some of that water as long as it's not a detriment to anything downstream.

I have about a five acre gentle slope to the South half covered in trees and brush and half woods and open grass. I think if I can do some swales or something I can greatly improve the vegetation in the area while improving the forest's ability to retain water.

I plan on putting together a forestry plan with the county so I'm sure they'll give me any information I need on how I can improve or protect land appropriately. For now it's just ideas and creativity.

However the first thing I'm going to do is put it a small camping area so that I can observe all of the trees and the land so we can figure out how best to use the area and how best to allow the land to heal and thrive.

You guys and gals rock. I wish I could archive this entire site to my hard drive. More I have the combined experiences of yours.

I admit I was originally just coming in here wondering geez do I need an excavator or do I need a box grader?
 
Chad Kovac
Posts: 38
Location: Pompano Beach, FL -> Roane County, TN
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Marco Banks wrote:The Permaculture principle here is "Improve your land in order of greatest permanence."  

What does this mean?  Dig your swales and earthworks before you plant your trees . . . you want to put in the physical landscape that will last for decades/centuries BEFORE you plant the biological stuff that will last for years.

In applying this to your steep driveway, I would think that before you turn your attention on grading and surface fixes, you'll need to give serious attention to they hydrology of your site.  Water run-off appears to be the biggest problem, so until you engineer drainage and such, you'll constantly find your roadway washing out.

The second permie phrase that comes to mind is "The problem is the solution".  All that water!  It looks like an opportunity if you can channel it in some meaningful way to provide the moisture that feeds an orchard or pond.  



Oh you and I are definitely on the same page. I want to fix the land so that it stays as permanent as can be. I want to stop the erosions and protect the resources. Basically do my part to balance entropy by preventing it where it's not helpful.

I look forward to leaving the city and living with my land. We had a little disagreement about my rude entry but, I think we're chill again.

I can't wait to bring this big pond to life!
IMG_4828.jpg
Don't get me started on ponding right up to the trees... Poor things.
Don't get me started on ponding right up to the trees... Poor things.
 
pollinator
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Location: Bendigo , Australia
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As a road builder here are some questions and a web site that will give you some background information
bush track design

How long is your road?
When you say steep, what is the slope you are talking about?

The best equipment for  road construction is a grader and a heavy roller.
 
Chad Kovac
Posts: 38
Location: Pompano Beach, FL -> Roane County, TN
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John C Daley wrote:As a road builder here are some questions and a web site that will give you some background information
bush track design

How long is your road?
When you say steep, what is the slope you are talking about?

The best equipment for  road construction is a grader and a heavy roller.



I haven't measured either but if guess approx 2500 ft long varying degrees of up and down with the steepest around 30 degrees.

I was thinking the same thing. I might try doing it with a box blade grader behind my truck and renting a roller.
 
John C Daley
pollinator
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Thats more than a drive.
Thats a project, I have a box grader, I would not bother using it.

Its going to take a lot of time and maybe a lot of money.
 
Chad Kovac
Posts: 38
Location: Pompano Beach, FL -> Roane County, TN
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John C Daley wrote:Thats more than a drive.
Thats a project, I have a box grader, I would not bother using it.

Its going to take a lot of time and maybe a lot of money.



Do you think one of the larger box blades or one of the other draggle tools might work? Maybe a powered grader?

Otherwise, I'm waiting on an estimate from an earth mover guy.

Too bad though. I'd love to be able to maintain my driveway myself.
 
Jay Angler
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Chad Kovac wrote:

Too bad though. I'd love to be able to maintain my driveway myself.

Chad there's a big difference between "fixing a badly damaged driveway" and "maintaining" that repaired drive! You may need help getting this one working, but if you do all that rainwater management suggested, make sure you've got properly sized culverts where needed (the former owners of two bits of  land we bought failed and we've got to decide how we're going to fix the problem soon), and then watch for trouble and fix it early, you may be able to maintain the drive for decades with basic tools.

We have gravel that meets hardtop at the end of our drive and it was developing potholes last winter. I brought over buckets of "fines" from our gravel heap, and used a flat plated pounding tool Hubby had bought and the potholes went from "getting worse daily" to "stable ever since". It took 4 more buckets than I thought it would, but I just kept adding gravel and pounding it until it looked "just right". Hubby actually bought a small vibrator compactor and that would have been a great tool to use, but he was preoccupied and it out-weighs me (well, maybe not quite, but close enough) so I used woman power and it worked well enough. That encouraged me to do a little water redirection elsewhere and I was pleased with those results also. The key to successful maintenance is that old saying - a stitch in time, saves nine - in my books!
 
Marty Mac
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Location: Ozarks
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Chad
My driveway is about 500 ft long with a small circle around my cabin, so may be 600 ft total. In 2009 I got an estimate for $11000.  That included 3 small culverts and one larger crossing requiring  2 lengths of  3 ft wide culverts.  My thought was  $11000 I could get a used tractor and do the work myself. Well the tractor with attachments plus  gravel and culverts I have around 15K in to my driveway not counting my time.  Lots of time! The up side is I have become very good with my tractor.  Now having said that the neighbor I spoke of early has tractor but is just to afraid to use it. I cant blame him. Steep hills plus uneven ground and loose dirt and rocks all add up to what can be VERY dangerous.  All things to consider when your getting your estimate.  

You mentioned using a box scraper attached to your truck.  I don't think my truck is geared any where near low enough to be effective at pulling the rocks and leveling in the first stages of work. The tractor in low 4x4 first gear might go 1 mile an hour at the most. That works well for pulling rocks free without to much bouncing or spinning tires.  I think your idea might work to maintain my road but haven't tried it.  
 
John C Daley
pollinator
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Proper road graders have the power, and the ability to create roads.
With the correct material added and compacted with the roller it will last for years.
You can then maintain the drains, etc afterwards.
One problem to think about is that smooth drives encourage speeding vehicles which then creates pot holes.
I enforce 30kph on my drive, and I place old tyres on it to narrow the access.
 
Chad Kovac
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Location: Pompano Beach, FL -> Roane County, TN
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Yeah. I'm able to maintain it but, waiting for an estimate from a guy who does this for a living so I don't make matters worse or kill myself trying to save some money.

That's a good tip on the end of the driveway. I'm also meeting blacktop with gravel. I'll mention that to the driveway guy.
 
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