Road Building

Not All Road Building Methods Are Created Equal: A Case Study in the Drawbacks of Traditional Approaches

In Dust Control, Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc., Roads, Soil Stabilization, Surface Management by Frank Elswick

For residents of Farmington Hills, Michigan, who experience a deep winter freeze and wet spring thaw every year, traditional approaches to road building work — until they don’t.

In municipalities across the United States, the wear and tear of seasonal changes can wreak havoc on unpaved roads. Freezing winter conditions make it all but impossible to repair damage caused by ice and snow while the spring thaw floods them, making the roads hazardous for drivers.

This is exactly what residents of Farmington Hills, Michigan, are up against with the city’s 22 miles of gravel backroads. While this infrastructure is an important part of the local community, the difficulty citizens have traversing it when it’s been damaged has become a source of frustration.

This is so much the case that the city’s Department of Public Works published a press release in the Farmington Voice explaining the challenges the local government faces managing traditionally built gravel roads during Michigan’s cold winters and wet springs. While the Farmington Hills DPW can’t control the inclement weather that causes this kind of damage, the municipality can invest in road stabilization products and building strategies that would make their unpaved surfaces more resilient.

More About Traditional Road Building Methods

As you might expect, traditional road building methods haven’t changed that much in recent years. Unpaved roads are typically constructed with gravel made up of a mixture of stones, sand, and clay. This mixture is easily shaped according to local needs and helps with rain runoff. It’s also easier to regrade than many road building alternatives. Typically, gravel roads will also include ditches on either side so that precipitation doesn’t rest on the unpaved surface and cause it to deteriorate.

Aside from this option, some unpaved roads are constructed with limestone. As the Farmington Hills DPW acknowledges, this material does have its benefits — hardness and strength included — but it does have its drawbacks, too.

Whatever material is used for unpaved roads, some type of dust control compound is necessary  to keep fine particles under control. This is important for community quality of life and general maintenance.

How These Methods Come Up Short

Without the addition of the latest in road stabilization strategies, these traditional road building methods often come up short in critical ways — something the residents of Farmington Hills know all too well. For instance, unpaved roads that aren’t stabilized properly tend to deteriorate during the winter freeze and spring thaw. Because of the way they’re constructed, these unpaved gravel roads are difficult to fix once the road freezes over or when it’s covered in water, and that means that residents have to make do with temporary, unsatisfying fixes.

The same goes for limestone alternatives. In addition to being much dustier than most gravel mixtures, limestone is more difficult to maintain and it doesn’t drain surface melt and rainwater as efficiently as other materials.

How Soil Stabilization Can Help

As they are in Farmington Hills, unpaved roads can be an important part of a community’s infrastructure network. However, sticking to traditional road building methods that haven’t changed dramatically in decades can make travel annoying — and even hazardous — when the roads have faced the wear and tear of inclement weather. To make gravel roads last, municipalities should consider what modern road stabilization and building solutions from Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. can do to help their residents.

With more than four decades of experience supporting private and public organizations concerned about their unpaved roads, Midwest has the know-how you need to keep your roads safe and cut down on maintenance costs in the process. Whether you’re looking for a quick fix or a large-scale overhaul, our road stabilization methods are just what you need.

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