How Often Should Gravel Roads Be Graded?

How Often Should Gravel Roads Be Graded?

In Dust Control, Gravel Roads, Soil Stabilization by Frank Elswick

While gravel roadways may require periodic re-grading, a regular maintenance program that protects the strength and integrity of the road can reduce the frequency of grading.

With the wear and tear that affects gravel roads on a regular basis, effective maintenance can pose a unique challenge. Ruts, potholes, and displaced gravel are a natural side effect of heavy traffic, and this damage may require costly resurfacing in problem areas or even along entire lengths of the road.

While there may be no hard and fast rule for how frequently a gravel road needs to be graded, there is plenty of guidance available today on how to keep unpaved roads in optimal condition.

Basic Maintenance

The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Gravel Roads Maintenance Design Manual details how to best maintain unpaved roads in your municipality. First and foremost, maintaining the road’s shape is critical to the health of any gravel road. As the guide explains, “In order to maintain a gravel road properly, operators must clearly understand the need for three basic elements: 1) a crowned driving surface; 2) a shoulder area that slopes directly away from the edge of the driving surface; and 3) a ditch.” Without proper upkeep of this crown and shape, even lightly-trodden gravel roads suffer from blocked drainage and accelerated deterioration.

While many gravel roads will require significant reshaping and grading at some point despite regular maintenance, the need for major rehabilitation can be delayed by taking the proper measures up front.

Quality Materials

Using quality gravel is one way to forestall many problems that compromise the surface of the road, such as washboarding. As the FHWA guide states, “Good gravel road maintenance or rehabilitation depends on two basic principles: proper use of a motor grader (or other grading device) and use of good surface gravel.” Shoddy road conditions are often blamed on the grader, while the use of subpar material may be the real culprit.

In the case of weak subgrades, a type of woven or non-woven synthetic fabric called a geotextile can be placed on the subgrade soil before a layer of gravel is applied on top, strengthening the subgrade and minimizing the need for future maintenance. As the FHWA notes, “The initial cost of stabilizing a weak road section can be expensive, but it will result in low maintenance costs thereafter, and will often make these projects cost effective.” Investing in geotextiles at the start can reduce the need for complete regrading down the line.

Dust Control

Another essential method to reduce the cost of gravel road maintenance and grading is proper stabilization and dust control. Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. offers a range of environmentally-friendly stabilization and dust control solutions for unpaved roads to help lower costs and ensure road longevity, shape, and strength. Midwest’s products trap harmful PM10 and PM2.5 dust particles on the roa d, prevent erosion and deterioration, and stabilize the road surface; they also increase CBR and reduce the overall life-cycle cost of maintenance.

Apart from investing in quality gravel, geotextiles, and conducting routine monitoring and maintenance, proper dust control is another crucial method to keep gravel roads in top condition. Midwest keeps roads strong, costs down, and harmful dust out of the air.


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