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How to Maintain a Safe Unpaved Road in Winter Weather

By Frank Elswick on 12/13/2016

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Keeping unpaved roads safe for drivers is a year-round endeavor, but it’s especially important during the winter months.

When snow falls on paved highways, fleets of snowplows rev up to clear away the gray slush and keep drivers safe on the road. Many people in rural communities do not enjoy the same access to snowplows, however, and must travel along unplowed, unpaved roadways — which make up 2.7 million of the 4 million total miles of road in the U.S., according to the Department of Transportation.

Safety remains a concern on all types of roadways, at all times of the year. While only 2% of traffic fatalities occur on unpaved roads nationwide, in some states this percentage is as high as 20%; therefore, owners and operators of unpaved roads must make sure to keep driving conditions as safe as possible. With wintry weather about to descend upon the northern United States, heightened attention must be paid to keeping unpaved roads clear for drivers.

Year-Round Maintenance

Maintaining unpaved roads is a year-round endeavor. Operators are responsible for keeping the surface of their roads smooth, even, and well-maintained. Unpaved roads with deep ruts, an uneven or pitched surface, or potholes could cause cars to skid, presenting a serious safety hazard to drivers.

To maintain safe conditions, unpaved roads must have a wide shoulder and top-quality, well-graded crushed surfacing aggregate. If the aggregate is poorly maintained, dust may rise up and obscure drivers’ vision of the road and oncoming traffic. Special attention must also be paid to proper drainage, since excess water can lead to potholes, rutting, shoulder erosion and washouts.

It’s also crucial to alert drivers of any changes in road conditions — if a paved road is converted to an unpaved one, for example — with chevrons or clearly marked road signs. Additionally, ensure that all signs are visible to drivers with retroreflective sheeting. In general, experts recommend clearly delineating the edge of the unpaved road with markers, and keeping sight lines free of vegetation or other obstructions. Strict enforcement of speed limits is also of course vital to driver safety.

Winter Safety

Properly maintaining unpaved road surfaces throughout the year makes snow plowing in the winter easier. If the gravel is too loose, however, the plow will pick it up along with the snow, damaging both the road surface and the plow. To clear snow during early winter snowstorms with less damage to the road, many road crews use a front-mounted grading rake (a tool that typically serves to keep unpaved roads smooth during the summer months). When the roads freeze and become hardened later in the winter, more conventional plowing methods can be used. When clearing snow from unpaved roads, alert drivers that plows are in operation with flashing lights and warning signs.

Proven Solutions for Unpaved Roads

Unpaved roads offer many benefits that paved roads do not — for example, they utilize soils that are native to the region, preserving the natural beauty of rural areas. That’s why, at Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc., we’re committed to providing solutions for the building and maintenance of unpaved roads.

Our GreenPave® soil stabilization technology combines native soils with an alternative binder to create a durable and sustainable unpaved road surface. For road maintenance crews, the GreenPave product’s incorporation of native soils makes unpaved roads a cost-efficient option. With the application of GreenPave, unpaved roads can attain the same surface strength as asphalt roads with an 80% reduction in maintenance costs.

One aspect of GreenPave that makes its application especially advantageous during the winter months is its ability to reduce moisture penetration, thereby making plowing easier. At Midwest, we know how challenging road maintenance can be when the temperatures drop and the snowstorms roll in — and we’re here to help.

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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