Roads are everywhere — but how much do they cost to maintain?
When people think of the country’s roadway infrastructure, they usually think of the construction of shiny new thoroughfares like roads, bridges, and highways funded by government dollars and built on the promise of major economic benefits to local areas.
But what they don’t often think of is the huge undertaking and financial investment required to maintain America’s four million miles of roads. And to put it bluntly, it doesn’t come cheap.
So let’s break down exactly how much it costs to maintain a mile of road, so you can make the best decision for your village, township, municipal area, or county.
Calculating the Cost
The reality is that maintenance costs depend on the answers to a whole host of questions: What’s the road made of, and what’s its current condition? Where is it located, and how much precipitation does it see on average? How wide is it? Does it include bridges or mountain underpasses?
Considering all of these variables in play, it should come as no surprise that the cost to maintain a mile of road can vary from as little as $782 per year (federally-maintained high-clearance roads) to $208,736 per year (New Jersey State Highways).
Highways are, without a doubt, the most expensive type of road to maintain, due to their width and high traffic volumes. In 2015, the average annual cost to maintain one of the U.S. National Highway System’s 220,000 miles was $28,020.
That’s a steep price to pay, but local roads are a different animal altogether.
A 2015 study by the Cornell Local Roads Program found that the annual cost of managing a mile of road in a handful of New York towns and cities varied from $4,429 to $10,440. Meanwhile, a 2016 analysis of Washington State’s county roads came up with a range of $1,528 to $23,651.
Given that wide disparity, it comes as little surprise that a UNLV study on road maintenance inputs found that geographical location is one of the most important variables — not just because of environmental and climatic conditions, but economic conditions as well.
Outside of the U.S., a 2005 study by the World Bank looked at a sample of developing countries (Albania, Laos, Lesotho, Peru, Zambia), and found that (adjusted for inflation) asphalt roads cost $5,273 per mile to maintain, while gravel roads cost $2,371. That brings us to another input variable specifically singled out by UNLV’s study: surface type.
In general, paved roads cost more to maintain than gravel roads. In turn, many small towns are converting asphalt roads to gravel — and they’re enjoying massive reductions in their maintenance bills as a result.
The ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card notes that at least 27 states have “de-paved” roads in the past five years in order to reduce ongoing maintenance costs. In one particularly notable example, Stutsman County, North Dakota — which spends $32,000 per year on each mile of their 233-mile asphalt road network — estimates that if those same roads were de-paved, the cost per mile of maintenance would drop to just $2,600.
Road Maintenance Made Simple
At the end of the day, no two roads cost the same to maintain. And yet across the country, towns, counties, and states are all having the same trouble keeping up with road maintenance. David Hartgen, lead author of the Annual Highway Report, notes that a few states are “really falling behind on maintenance and repairs.” And there’s an estimated countrywide road maintenance backlog of $420 billion.
Faced with these challenges, local governments around the world are looking for answers, and more than a few have found that gravel roads offer a solution that balances lower maintenance costs with high performance. But gravel alone won’t do it.
In order for these roadways to truly outperform their paved counterparts, local governments need to invest in a quality soil stabilization product. Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. fills that need with our industry-leading, patented GreenPave® soil stabilization technology.
GreenPave’s polymer-enhanced, resin-based organic emulsion combines with the natural aggregate to create a durable surface that resists moisture and severe weather conditions. The proper application of Midwest’s GreenPave family of products represents a proven, eco-friendly alternative to asphalt.