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saving roads ... avoiding the dreaded gravel

 
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trying to find a forum....Does anyone have any idea on how to combat road degradation?  Our county "powers that be" is threatening to "change" our road to gravel.  It is up to us (4 families) to save it.  We don't want to live in a dust bowl. We have approximately 4500 feet that we are desperately trying to save.  The photo is an example of what is happening.  Last year (late summer) we had it oil coated and obviously had very little success.  There is very little depth to most of these holes and it is hard to figure out how to patch it.   Thoughts, ideas, experience, grants are all appreciated. Please and thank you!
IMG_4218.jpg
example of what is going on... :(
example of what is going on... :(
 
pollinator
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I spent most of my life eating county gravel road dust, so I certainly sympathize.

The road beds in rural areas were often just the mixed dirt scooped out from the ditches. Because it absorbs and holds moisture, it moves, slumps, and frost heaves. It's a lousy foundation for modern roads that have heavy truck traffic or a paved surface.

Upgrading the road base costs a fortune, so rural municipalities are very selective. And fixing the pavement on an unimproved road is a never-ending game of whack-a-mole -- it has to be regularly oiled and graded.

At my old property, the county would subsidize the cost of annual oiling on a 100-yard stretch, but if you put out your own stakes based on the prevailing wind, it was effective; if you wanted more, you paid full price.

None of this windbaggery really helps, sorry. Except to say: I get it.
 
Rocket Scientist
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Hi Michele;
That appears to be an asphalt road.   The only way to patch them is with more asphalt.  Use a home made packer and a propane weed burner.
Heat up your existing road and your patch material until the oil starts flowing then smash them together.
This is how our enthusiastic county road crew occasionally attempts to do more than support their shovels.

Despite the dust  I prefer a gravel road... at least they can grade it.
And Magnesium Chloride practically eliminates dust.    Of course its not cheap...
 
pollinator
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I drive down over 6 miles of dirt to get to town, gravel sound very nice to me...fancy even.
Like D,A. said, counties have to spend the money based on traffic load etc.. Only a few people around me so pavement will never get here. (I hope)
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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thomas rubino wrote:Heat up your existing road and your patch material until the oil starts flowing then smash them together.
This is how our enthusiastic county road crew occasionally attempts to do more than support their shovels.



LOL! My nose tells me that the patch material has a bit of more volatile stuff in the mix to help the bond occur. Phew.
 
gardener
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The options are few ...breath dust or breath fumes.   I presently live on a gravel road.  Fortunately, I am virtually the only one using it.
 
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Ralph Sluder wrote:I drive down over 6 miles of dirt to get to town, gravel sound very nice to me...fancy even.
Like D,A. said, counties have to spend the money based on traffic load etc.. Only a few people around me so pavement will never get here. (I hope)



Yeah, I'd give an internal organ to have gravel instead of the dirt and shark-fin rock jutting up that I deal with now.
 
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Ok, get ready for long one...

In my day job I actually work for a County and over see construction of new roads, and major repairs and rehab of existing roads. This includes gravel, seal coat, and asphalt roads. I have spent years of my life looking at, and coming up with solutions to fix this exact problem.

It's a bit hard to tell from your picture, but that looks like either a seal coated or a cold mix road. the problem with these types of roads, as apposed to your standard ACP (or asphalt road) is that this surface has next to no structure. All of the strength of the road comes from the base ad sub base (the stuff underneath the surface). Douglas is very right in saying a lot of these country roads in North America were  built by just taking the soil out of the ditch and piling it in the middle. This a very cheap way to build a road in the short term, but very costly in the long term. Water is a roads worst enemy, and that soil is full of organic material that loves to soak up any moisture it can get ahold of. As Douglas again pointed out, this can cause a whole lot of movement as these soils saturate, break down, freeze, and thaw. Because the surface has no structure to it, any movement and is starts to fall apart and blow out like you see in your picture. Up where I am, this is the worst time of year for these roads, as all the frost is coming out and they are moving like crazy.

Now that we have some background, how do we fix this? Well the obvious answer is the remove all that organic dirt. the problem is that requires ripping up the road, trucking all that dirt out, and trucking in nice new dirt/gravel that lacks any of the organic matter and can compacted never to move again. This is very expensive, and very unlikely to happen. So the next best are band-aids. Again, the cause of these blowouts is water, so we want to keep water out. the cheapest (few hundred $$) and quickest solution is to get some cold mix asphalt. This will fill in the whole, and kind of keep the water out. For a bit. Until it doesn't and the road falls apart again. The slightly better but slightly more expensive (few thousand $$) solution is to dig out the black dirt in this location that blew out, put in a bit of gravel, and then lay some ACP over it. This will probably solve the problem in this specific spot for a while to come, but you can expect more blowouts to occur elsewhere. In my experience it's usually where the old road meets the new patch. So how likely is any of this to occur? Again, this is solely based on personal experience, but you would have the highest chance of seeing the cheapest band-aid. Most municipalities in North-America have an infrastructure deficit. This means that they are unable to afford the maintenance and required upgrades of all infrastructure they own. So most of these repairs get triaged based on a whole bunch of objective and political factors. This is probably why your County is looking at changing your road to gravel; it is far cheaper to maintain in the long run. I have had to make similar decisions, and they are very tough and rarely supported by the users of the road.

So lets say they go ahead with their plan and now you have a gravel road. How can you deal with the dust? Luckily there are several options, however most would not be "permaculture friendly". The cheapest solution is to water the road. This keeps the dust down, but only for a short period of time until the road dries. This can be good for one-off events where there will be a lot of traffic in a short period of time, but not much use beyond that. your next solution is a gravel stabilizer. this includes products like calcium chloride and magnesium chloride. These cause water to bind to the gravel, essentially keeping it wet and preventing dust. These products aren't super expensive (few hundred $$ for a couple hundred yrds) and last a year or two before having to be reapplied. another solution is a cement based gravel stabilizer. These are more expensive and tend to be used on base gravel rather than surface gravel, but i have seen it. They last longer, but you have a rougher ride. I have seen some "eco" products enter the market that use tree sap, but I'm not fully sold on their effectiveness yet. Finally you can spray oil on the road. This is not allowed in many areas now due to obvious environmental concerns. The downside with all of these is that you can't really maintain the road once it is down. This leads to lots of potholes showing up before it either wears out on its own, or it has to be dealt with. Our County has a user pay program where residents on gravel roads can pay to to put down Calcium Chloride, and we guarantee to leave it in place for a year. I would check with your County to see if they offer anything similar.

Hopefully my long winded answer gives a bit of insight into the challenges of failing roads, and offers some solutions. If you have any questions, please ask, as I could go one about this for days.

 
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What happens to those gravel stabilizers after one year? Those compunds don't sound really healty...do they make the dust more dangerous in the long run?

From a permie perspective, wouldn't it be more feasable to have the "natural" gravel road, and sufficient plants on either side of the road to catch the dust?
I ask this from a very naive perspective, because i have never been there and don't know how big the dust coulds get and how hard the wind blows.

edit: Another train of tought: if the problem is water underneath the road, maybe there are plants/earthworks who can wick the water away without damaging the roads?
 
gardener
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I think if you point out the cost of converting that whole road to gravel compared to a few patches per year, you won’t be getting gravel anytime soon. Gravel is expensive!
 
J Crozier
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R. Han wrote:What happens to those gravel stabilizers after one year? Those compunds don't sound really healty...do they make the dust more dangerous in the long run?

From a permie perspective, wouldn't it be more feasable to have the "natural" gravel road, and sufficient plants on either side of the road to catch the dust?
I ask this from a very naive perspective, because i have never been there and don't know how big the dust coulds get and how hard the wind blows.

edit: Another train of tought: if the problem is water underneath the road, maybe there are plants/earthworks who can wick the water away without damaging the roads?



To answer your fist question, calcium chloride and magnesium chloride are salts, so the dilute very easily. Over time as they see more water they will continue to dilute to the point they are no longer effective. As for health, both are deemed to be non-toxic, with some people even taking magnesium chloride supplements. Because they are salts however, they are not plants best friends, and I definitely see salt stress on plants a few feet from the road where it is regularly applied.

For your second question, that for sure should have been included in my list of solutions. This is probably the most permie friendly of the options, however there is a surprising amount of debate around this option in my field. The issue is that it doesn't directly deal with the dust. Dust can cause visibility issues, not to mention dust from gravel roads has some pretty negative health impacts from long term exposure which affect humans and animals. It has also been shown to have a negative impact on plant growth, and harmful to waterways. I have spoken with several landowners who have planted trees to deal with dust who noticed that during very dusty years the trees are noticeably stressed and have even died. By the way, companies that sell stabilizers use these facts to spin their products as being more eco friendly than natural gravel, which I don't really agree with (seems a bit like the "lesser of two evils" situation).

Finally, when it comes to roots, they can be both helpful and harmful to the road. You do not want them growing under the road. the roots growing and moving around cause movement under the road, which will cause it to fall apart that much faster. In my opinion, trees can be useful by puling water out of ditches. Keeping ditches dry go a long way to keeping the base of the road dry. Trees planted on the backside of the ditch should naturally have their roots find the wettest spot, which is a ditch bottom. They would then pull this moisture out of the ditch, and help dry out the road. The roots shouldn't extend to much beyond the ditch and into the road, as the road will have very little moisture, at least compared to the ditch. Again, this is just my opinion.

All this is to say that this a very complicated issue with no easy solution. There are dozens of products on the market, with more added each year that all try to deal with these problems. It would also make my job very boring if there was just a magic bullet that could be used every time. These things tend to be very case specific, with different solution working for different instances.
 
J Crozier
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Artie Scott wrote:I think if you point out the cost of converting that whole road to gravel compared to a few patches per year, you won’t be getting gravel anytime soon. Gravel is expensive!



The price of gravel is very region specific. Where I am for example, we have an abundance of gravel which makes it very cheap. When it comes to patching roads, the price of oil used is a factor of 10 more expensive than gravel. This can lead to a few patches a year absolutely costing more than ripping up the road and dumping some gravel on top.
 
R. Han
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Crozier wrote:The issue is that it doesn't directly deal with the dust. Dust can cause visibility issues, not to mention dust from gravel roads has some pretty negative health impacts from long term exposure which affect humans and animals. It has also been shown to have a negative impact on plant growth, and harmful to waterways. I have spoken with several landowners who have planted trees to deal with dust who noticed that during very dusty years the trees are noticeably stressed and have even died. By the way, companies that sell stabilizers use these facts to spin their products as being more eco friendly than natural gravel, which I don't really agree with (seems a bit like the "lesser of two evils" situation).



I think the trees DO deal with the dust. They trap it on their leaf surfaces until the next rain when it is washed down into the soil.
Furthermore there are trees who can handle a lot more than others.
For example the yew (taxus) is notorius for being abused and still surviving...very toxin-tolerant...to my knowledge the only conifer that sprouts back from
the ground after being cut down.

Also i find the idea that companies sell that salts are more environment friendly than trees almost comical if it wasn't so sad.
 
thomas rubino
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J Crozier;
Thanks for responding , you have excellent insight into this subject.
Living near the border with Canada I have made many trips up, mainly thru BC and Alberta.  
The one thing that impressed me the most, was the quality of the repair on any road we traveled.
Be it a highway or a gravel road. If we came upon road repair it was always a complete tear down, haul off and rebuild.
Nothing like the temporary glossing I see as county road repairs around here.
The same roads have the same holes develop year after year.
The "repair" is send out the grader , pull the ditches , try to push the rocks back off...
They removed the rippers and put on tire rollers instead.... looks really pretty for a short while.
They used to spray mag chloride in front of each home near the road.
Now... you can pay a company that the county made a "deal" with to get a good price on spraying your road in front of your house... funny our taxes never went down with a loss of services...
I go down to the restaurant's and get used fryer oil  and dump it on the road.  Completely legal to do as long as it is not puddled up.

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I always liked gravel roads, I even like dirt roads. I'd rather have either than pavement. The trick is to have enough trees and bushes at the front of your property to catch the dust.
 
J Crozier
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R. Han wrote:I think the trees DO deal with the dust. They trap it on their leaf surfaces until the next rain when it is washed down into the soil.
Furthermore there are trees who can handle a lot more than others.
For example the yew (taxus) is notorius for being abused and still surviving...very toxin-tolerant...to my knowledge the only conifer that sprouts back from
the ground after being cut down.

Also i find the idea that companies sell that salts are more environment friendly than trees almost comical if it wasn't so sad.



Like i say, there is a lot of debate here. I figured most people here would take the pro tree stance, so I wanted to highlight some of the the counter arguments you may face. I certainly don't disagree with your points. As far as tree species go, this is admittedly outside of my realm of knowledge. I'll have to do more reading up on yews.  And yes, I think there is some greenwashing happening with some of these products.

thomas rubino wrote:I go down to the restaurant's and get used fryer oil  and dump it on the road.  Completely legal to do as long as it is not puddled up.



I think this a great idea, as long as you can get ahold of enough of it. Of course if anyone else is considering it, make sure it's legal in your area.
 
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