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DIY Dirt Road maintenance and improvement

 
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my driveway and parking area was built on silty sand.  There was some remnants of gravel, but not much, and one spring, we sunk the car to the axles.

So, fall 2016, I got a load of (was supposed to be a load of crushed rock, and one load of road gravel) stones that turned out to be 3/4-1" round stuff....  that WILL NOT PACK!

I have thrown a LOT of it with the snowblower!  I hate the stuff.

this spring, I was thinking I need to tie in together with smaller stuff, like jackpine sand, or my sandy silt, then get something on top of that.

I have an issue with the lay of the yard, and haven't figured out where the best drainage would be.

But I could just build it all up, but as this is the only place we can park our cars, I need it to be usable very quickly no matter what I do.
 
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Brad Hengen wrote:my driveway and parking area was built on silty sand.  There was some remnants of gravel, but not much, and one spring, we sunk the car to the axles.

So, fall 2016, I got a load of (was supposed to be a load of crushed rock, and one load of road gravel) stones that turned out to be 3/4-1" round stuff....  that WILL NOT PACK!

I have thrown a LOT of it with the snowblower!  I hate the stuff.

this spring, I was thinking I need to tie in together with smaller stuff, like jackpine sand, or my sandy silt, then get something on top of that.

I have an issue with the lay of the yard, and haven't figured out where the best drainage would be.

But I could just build it all up, but as this is the only place we can park our cars, I need it to be usable very quickly no matter what I do.



Building a proper driveway means drainage and building in layers, get any of those two wrong and there is a mess.

In your case it does not sound like the base is very good, which should be bigger rocks, for really deep holes and fills, 6 inch rock or bigger, but within a foot of the surface grade 4 inch rock and gravel. Surface gravel should always have a mixture of fines and rock, but not 1 inch. All layers, no matter how deep, should be put in at 8 inch "lifts" and compacted.

It also is best to have a bulldozer. do that. That is because the lags of a bulldozer are 3 inches high or so, and spaced further apart. That is what does the work, not the blade. That merely levels out the soil, it is the constant steering that allows the tracks of a bulldozer to "lock" those rocks in place and compact the soil. An excavator will not do that because they have 3 grousers per track shoes spaced very close together; great for driving on pavement, but not so good for compacting gravel.

Then of course the road has to be shaped to get the water off the surface, as well as out of the base layers and into ditches so that the road stays dry. No water, no frost, and less heaving and mud.

Erosion is another thread unto its own, but just controlling, then slowing the water down does that, whether it be rock or brush check dams, or man made materials. As my soil engineer says, "I work in a world of gray". There are many ways to do that, bu it is not hard or expensive. But again that is another thread unto its own.
 
Travis Johnson
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Jami McBride wrote:Okay - so my rock road that's been fine up to this fall, but now is turning into a mud bog with this years heavy PNW rains.

I've been talking with people about how one can deal with: sinking rock - rising mud, one guy said there is fabric you can put down to keep your rock from sinking.  I imagine there must be other solutions too, so does anyone here at Permies have dirt road maintenance experience?

I can keep throwing rock down on my driveway, but my road community did that last year on the main road and now it's falling apart too this winter - so rocking isn't the perfect solution.


(Edit to add - I've learning that not all rock is equal : )



Rock is PART of the solution, but really a good road is about drainage and shaping. Your situation really is not that hard to remedy if you have a few things, a tractor with a front loading bucket, a farming type land plow, and rock. If you can borrow the tractor and plow, that counts too. The point is you do NOT need a lot of equipment. But lacking owning or borrowing, then you can rent, but that kind of deserves its own post. I am more than willing to share on that, just let me know as its an exhaustive reply. I am hoping you have a tractor or can borrow one.

I took the liberty of taking your circles and arrows out of your drawings so I could explain some stuff. Just keep in mind, in explaining it, it sounds super-complicated, but really it is not that hard to do, nor expensive if you have some rocks you can work with. Any rocks will do, but the bigger the better (well within reason, liftable by hand in other words). I did not think you would mind as I am just trying to help you with your issue, all of which is maintenance stuff, not neglect or a poorly built road by the looks.

....

Okay in the first photo, in section one by the trees of the ditch I would put a rock check dam. This is just a rock wall that spans the ditch. This is just a loosely laid stone wall so that it retains any silt that might go down the ditch. In the second picture, which is from my farm, I show what I envision there. Nothing super hard to do, but looks good and works even better. A tractor just helps move the rocks, but is not really needed here.



Winter-Road-lowArea-Numbers.jpg
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Travis Johnson
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Again in  the photo of your place, on the road I labeled with a 2, the work here is not that difficult to do. I really just needs regrading. A grader blade works best obviously, but just some loosening with the plow, and some digging and back dragging with the bucket of a tractor will work.

Here you have some issues, but anyone with a road does. The first is that green grass in the center of the wheel tracks. If you look at the second picture you posted, you will see that you wrote "Good Road" where there is no green grass, but where the grass starts, you have problems. That is because the water (rain), is running down the wheel tracks and not making it to the ditches.

In some ways the fence COULD be moved back, but I do not think it is needed. Because it is there, the road just needs to be "outsloped" or tilted a bit to the right. In some places it is, but that mud puddle exists because the water is not making it to the ditch. A little berm of dirt has built up there stopping the water from going down into the ditch. Again this is SUPER common, and something all dirt roads get and why they are graded. This is a maintenance thing, not neglect or improper construction.

So with some loosening and reshaping, the road can slope a bit more to the right as you look down your photo.

Winter-Road-lowArea-Numbers.jpg
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Travis Johnson
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Now the most work is going to be in the section I numbered 3: the ditch work.

This needs some serious digging out. Again that is normal as all ditches fill with dirt over time. It just needs to be dug down about a foot at the center of the ditch, from the rock check dam built by the trees, to the french drain. This will give the slope going up to the right edge of the driveway more pitch and nothing in the way so that water coming off the newly shaped driveway some place to go. Don't dig out by the road, start there and dig down to the center of the ditch so it it has a sort of shallow and long check mark.

This will take some serious digging and the overburden (soil) will have to go somewhere, but I am sure you have a place for topsoil. Just regrade the area smooth, replant grass as soon as you can to prevent erosion. The biggest thing is to make everything transition smoothly.

I would put a rock check dam (but smaller in size) by that power pole or so. It is hard to see the actual grade, but they are great at reducing erosion and controlling water well.

Winter-Road-lowArea-Numbers.jpg
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Travis Johnson
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In the third photo you posted, you have a muddy cow crossing area. I had the same issue in one of my fields as I rotational graze my sheep. I had an additional problem of having to get access to my field with equipment, and yet I have a substantial swale there. What to do?

I used a rock ford, which is just big rock spread out on the ground. In my case water can run over the rock, but it provides secure footing for my equipment and livestock. I used a low rock check dam to prevent water from running over the rock, then hitting the soil and eroding it, but that is optional, I am just explaining what I did. the two stakes indicate where the ford is so I can drive to it in the field, and avoid it when I bush hog in the summer and the grass is high.

It works really well, and should really help your cows stay clean.

Winter-Road-Muck.JPG
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Rock-Ford.jpg
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Travis Johnson
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Naturally all my suggestions you can feel free to kick to the curb. they are just what I would do, and would think they would help. Still I am 5000 miles away.

But if you got a tractor and some equipment, it would be a fun project and turn out well in the end. What a showpiece on your farm. As people drive up you got Permies Earthworks front and center. You even got the before pictures too!

Best of luck to you whatever you choose.
 
Brad Hengen
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Some valuable information here Travis, Thanks for that.

my driveway is far less complicated than these others.  
 
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Hello everyone, I am new here, and my road problem is big.

Our home is 3+ miles deep in the forest. We have no neighbors and our only Access road is  an old logging trail. It is just wide enough for one lane. We are located in West Virginia so the road goes up and down and around twisting and turning. The lower sections of the road have a lot of deep soft clay. Parts of the road are very rutted, the low spots are where the water runs down the mountains and across the road and of course many streams. I have spent years filling in with rocks only to have them sink. The only solution that I have found for the low spots that has work for me and tends to last is something called corduroy. It is the laying down of log lengths across the the road. It provides a form of bridge that one can drive on. It's bumpy but works. Unfortunately for me I have no equipment, everything has to be done by hand. And no one can deliver anything to us. So no deliveries of rocks etc. The logs can get heavy at times but once they're in place they tend to last.
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Logs laid across the road
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Ruts
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Bridge over stream, same idea with corduroy except with corduroy the logs are laid right on the ground.
 
pollinator
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Oh man, that's bad... As you probably read in this thread, road stability comes from rising it high enough above the water table so the weight of passing vihicles get spread enough not to make the water and mud come up through the stony/gravely road surface... What you have there is holes below grade filled with water... Still the answer to your problem is in this thread! Just reread! A number of solutions is pointed out and explained!
 
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Best if the groves between the logs in your corduroy slope to a ditch to carry any water away. Infact they seem less bumpy when on a diagonal. In the picture you posted the to logs across the road are trapping water in the ruts  with a different placement and using the wood further along they could serve as diversion of water running down the road keeping it dryer and less prone to ruts. This was described earlier where there was an objection to using chemically treated lumber.
 
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About 15 years ago I found a post of how to build a sloped driveway from an English web site. The process was simple so I did it. Wet ground until it slightly pools, lay down a good layer of gravel until you cannot see any earth, layer local clay on top, layer gravel. pound the ground energetically with a tamper or roller. Layer with local clay, layer gravel tamp down wet surface. Add more gravel as the clay shows through. Repeat.  I did this 5 or six layers 15 years ago and it's held up beautifully on a heavily sloped and used driveway. Every year big tree trucks drive on it a couple of times. If a chunk gets dug out 'cause someone spun a tire. It's easy to patch. Maybe in 5 or 6 years I'll put another layer of two on, maybe not.
 
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This is an old thread, but I thought I would weigh in.  We have tried several things on our long driveway.  The best option, turned out to be concrete washout.  It has held up remarkably well.
We have a few wet/ low spots, but some rock over those areas have been maintaining well, thus far.
 
pollinator
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Rob & Bryant have it right: Everything starts with a proper foundation. In Central WI, we live in a serious sandlot [35 ft. of sand before bedrock!]. Some folks go cheap and just mow the grass and drive on it... with the results you can expect! Ruts, potholes, getting stuck.
To do it right, first, all grass or vegetation material has to be removed. Then rocks and fines have to be liberally applied [like 4" to start with]. and it has to be tamped seriously, like with a steam roller.
As the years go by, you will always have to maintain them. There is no way around it. Whenever we have potholes, we bring a trailer of fines and thump them. The thumping imbricates the particles in a solid mat that won't budge. And no, it is not cheap and I feel for folks who have a long driveway. Since our driveway is not too long, we have asphalted it, making sure that the road was higher than the 'lawn'. It has cracked a little because we have roots from neighboring trees that lift the asphalt. I'd like to keep the trees... We may not be able to, unfortunately.
When we first lived here, there was a garage with a back door. They didn't have it finished but they were planning to put a ramp. we got one installed that was about 75 ft. long and climbed 10 ft. in that distance. We piled tons of "rocks and fines" and it has not budged without any maintenance since we made it [2004] The vegetation has crept on the 2 low sides and is maintaining the whole thing.
Good luck to you.
 
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Driveways! Does anyone have suggestions for a permeable, sustainable driveway surface that is not gravel? My driveways are flat and I live the desert so getting the water back into the ground is important. Gravel doesn't hold the dust down well enough--just seems to add to it.
 
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I lived for a few years at a cabin belonging to others.  The dirt driveway was a mess, their place was uphill from me.  I had plenty of opportunity to watch what they did,a swell astry what I wanted to try.  The road to and in front of my place was much improved by the time I moved out.  


as in all things permaculture, it depends on the particular situation you are trying to address.  Look at the road, consider how much run off there will be.  Give the water a place to go,else if WILL go down the road.  I filled deeply eroded trenches with gravel.  NOT road base with fines etc, because I wanted the water to travel down through the gravel... if it did not travel through the gravelit would have run on top of the road and made a new channel.  One thing to do is slow the water down.  It is fast moving water that erodes.  Slow moving water deposits what it is carrying. I put the gravel in the ravines, the water filled in many of the voids.  

On mud puddles that collect on the level places:  when a person drives through with a great splash,then the mud at the bottom of the puddle is thrown out with the splash, making the hole deeper.  I put many things in the puddles near my place, gravel included, but also odd things like the bale wrappers for huge circular bales.  My idea was to make a bottom to the puddle so that it would not eternally grow deeper.  The owners were not always on board with what I did,picking up the materials unless I covered them with gravel.  There were bundles of baling twine, lots of antique aluminum and steel beer cans,those went in the ravines too.

One place there was a steep section of driveway (with 2 channels, for the right and left tires of vehicles.  The channels did not let the water off the road,so it came down hill fast.  (A road that barely slopes towards the drop off will not gather water and channel it ).  At the bottom of this steep place , I made a place for the water to exit the road.  This is a tricky deal,because too much water too fast will cut the side of the road in no time... the drain has to be pretty flat as it leaves the road.  I made a ditch that traversed the side of the hill,carrying the water to an oak grove.

I don't know what the conditions are that would require inspectors and design professionals and the departments of make you sad.  Maybe you can get away with not calling them in. Maybe you don't have time for a learning process.  Every situation is unique.

Just look at what the water wants to do, because water is in charge. Make the water happy,give it what it wants, because it's going to win ANY fight.  Don't fight with it and you won't have a fight.  

One last thing:  engineers and design professionals don't necessarily know as much as they would like you to believe they do.  The desire for a guarantee from them is going to inspire them to overbuild.   Try to find a person with a lot of practical experience and a willingness to discuss the project, and who is not offended if you ask her /him to talk the variables through.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Gravel with fines packed tight *is* permeable. That makes is a layer that won't budge if it is well done. Road base gravel, at least the one we have here does shimmy a bit when you get heavy trucks, farm equipment on it. They  cover it with asphalt, which, of course, ends up cracking.
 
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One last thing:  engineers and design professionals don't necessarily know as much as they would like you to believe they do.  The desire for a guarantee from them is going to inspire them to overbuild.   Try to find a person with a lot of practical experience and a willingness to discuss the project, and who is not offended if you ask her /him to talk the variables through.


As a Civil Engineer I want to shoot back here.
- Civil Engineers are taught a lot and also taught how to research and observe.
- In specific areas Civil Engineers learn a lot from overseers who work the ground more regularly.
- Over building will always occur with ground works if a guarantee is expected, since the variables are many.
- In my experience I have not met and Engineer who will not talk through variables.

The biggest issue for me is landowners who have fixed ideas, a tiny budget that is not suitable for the problem and no ongoing plans for maintenance.

The second one is landowners who have mates that know everything, but take no responsibility for being wrong.
 
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In a quick scan of this thread, I did not see the podcast about road building mentioned. There is also a free pdf here a good road lies easy on the land

Here is the podcast 185 the good road part 1

Here is the discussion thread https://permies.com/t/15497/Good-Road-Lies-Easy-Land
 
Thekla McDaniels
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John C Daley wrote:

One last thing:  engineers and design professionals don't necessarily know as much as they would like you to believe they do.  The desire for a guarantee from them is going to inspire them to overbuild.   Try to find a person with a lot of practical experience and a willingness to discuss the project, and who is not offended if you ask her /him to talk the variables through.


As a Civil Engineer I want to shoot back here.
- Civil Engineers are taught a lot and also taught how to research and observe.
- In specific areas Civil Engineers learn a lot from overseers who work the ground more regularly.
- Over building will always occur with ground works if a guarantee is expected, since the variables are many.
- In my experience I have not met and Engineer who will not talk through variables.

The biggest issue for me is landowners who have fixed ideas, a tiny budget that is not suitable for the problem and no ongoing plans for maintenance.

The second one is landowners who have mates that know everything, but take no responsibility for being wrong.



Hi John,

It looks like you may have taken some of my comments personally.  Sorry if that is the case.  Unfortunately Civil engineers are no more homogenous as a population than any other group of people.  There can be competent ones and incompetent ones,as in all things  :-).

We agree on over building, probably on most road design principles too.  
 
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