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Gravel Road vs. Dirt Road: Which One Is Right for You?

By Frank Elswick on 09/14/2017

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Gravel and dirt roads offer a cost-effective alternative to paved roads; here’s how these two surfacing methods compare to one another.

As unacceptable paved road conditions and limited infrastructure budgets prompt municipalities around the country to go the dirt or gravel route, the benefits of these unpaved alternatives have become clear. As stated in the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Gravel Roads Maintenance Design Manual, well-maintained dirt and gravel roads can cost less to construct and maintain, and are better for the environment.

These unpaved surfaces also help lower traffic speeds and thus improve safety for local communities, while the damage done to dirt and gravel roads through wear and tear can be repaired with greater ease and at lower costs. But when it comes to unpaved surfaces, there are two distinct options: dirt and gravel. What’s the difference between the two, and which is right for you?

Dirt vs. Gravel

Although a cost-effective alternative, dirt and gravel roads do come with their own challenges -- thankfully, all are easily remedied with effective maintenance solutions. Both dirt and gravel roads are more susceptible to water accumulation than paved roadways, which can result in washboarding, ruts, potholes, and erosion if not properly addressed. To ensure effective drainage, unpaved roads need to be built with a “crowned” surface that allows water to run off the road and into ditches along either side. Therefore, regular reshaping and grading are necessary practices for these unpaved roadways.

Weak subgrade can also pose an issue during the unpaved road construction process. Weak or wet subgrade can’t sustain heavy loads, and will result in ruts and potholes in both dirt and gravel road surfaces. In the case of gravel, a woven or non-woven synthetic fabric called a geotextile can be placed atop the subgrade and underneath the gravel to strengthen the road surface. Choosing high-quality gravel at the outset can also help offset certain surface deterioration issues. But in the case of dirt roads, since the subgrade or native soil itself comprises the road surface, such fixes aren’t applicable.

Midwest Offers Solutions For Any Road Surface

Midwest’s soil stabilization and natural paving solutions ensure that dirt roads built with native soils can be just as strong and perform just as well as paved or gravel surfaces. Utilizing our patented GreenPaveTM soil stabilization technology, Midwest’s field experts construct strong, sustainable surfaces from native soils. The GreenPave approach ensures the most cost-efficient, durable surface possible, strengthening the sub-base and creating an end product that requires minimal long-term maintenance. Meanwhile, fugitive airborne dust is a major issue on both gravel and dirt roads. Dust kicked up by passing traffic can pose a health hazard, impair visibility, and negatively affect local ecosystems. Patented products like EK35® and EnviroKleen® not only minimize the release of harmful dust particles, but also strengthen road surfaces and mitigate potholes and washboarding.

Both dirt and gravel are viable, cost-effective alternatives to conventional paving. Whichever you opt for, Midwest’s solutions ensure that your roadway is strong, environmentally-friendly, and aesthetically pleasing to boot.

About Author

Frank Elswick

Written by Frank Elswick

Frank is the sales unit manager of Midwest's road construction, natural paving markets.

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