Pennsylvania Increasingly Prefers Unpaved Roads

Pennsylvania Increasingly Prefers Unpaved Roads

In EK35®, Government, Soil Stabilization by Frank Elswick

In states like Pennsylvania that are home to a number of large rural communities, unpaved roads are becoming more popular and better funded.

In some states, unpaved roads can be hard to find, as they might serve as a last resort when traditionally paved roads aren’t an option. In Pennsylvania, however, they’ve become more popular than ever in recent years: Since 2013, the budget for the state’s Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance Program has risen by $30 million, funding construction and maintenance of unpaved roads throughout the state.

Sudden Spike in Funds

This funding increase is largely the result of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s transportation policies. Enacted in 2013, his infrastructure bill raised taxes on gas, traffic fines, and toll evasion fees to generate additional funding for the state’s roads, bridges, and public transit systems. Initially granted a budget of $5 million, the Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance Program saw that number increase sevenfold when it was suddenly awarded $35 million annually.

How the Funding Is Being Secured

Municipalities and departments of transportation throughout the state can apply for funding from the program, and projects with a greater projected environmental impact receive priority. The state typically receives twenty to thirty applications a year just from Schuylkill County, where gravel roads are particularly common. Subsequently, the state has awarded the county $300,000 in annual funding since 2013.

While the application process can be tedious, the funding has paid considerable dividends for Schuylkill. In 2017 alone, at least seven dirt and gravel projects across the county have received funds ranging from $16,000 to $41,000. The county has used this money to improve road quality and manage runoff. On Reilly Township’s Black Diamond Road, for example, crews installed drainage gates and elevated sections of the dirt and gravel portion of the road to prevent contaminated water from running off into local streams.

Unpaved Roads Are Unique

Over 25,000 miles of unpaved roads crisscross the state of Pennsylvania, and about 17,500 of them are owned by local municipalities. Used by residents, workers, and visitors alike, these routes offer needed access to local farms, mines, lumber mills, and tourist attractions to some 3.6 million Pennsylvanians. And because the raw materials and application are both generally less expensive than for paved surfaces, unpaved roads represent a cost-effective solution to the transportation issues facing less wealthy areas of the state.

As useful as unpaved roads are, however, they do have a few maintenance requirements that paved roads don’t. Because they’re typically made from dirt or gravel, they can create a great deal of nonpoint source pollution — emissions of sediment and dust that can pollute the surrounding air or local bodies of water.

In Pennsylvania alone, nonpoint source pollution accounts for 88% of polluted stream miles. That means these municipalities need to treat these unpaved roads with proven chemical solutions to mitigate these emissions.

How to Maintain Unpaved Roads

Fortunately, there are some affordable maintenance strategies and solutions that can prevent excessive runoff and dust altogether. With over 40 years of experience treating unpaved roads, Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc.’s team of experts and field professionals has the requisite knowledge and expertise to help any municipality or public authority develop an efficient and effective managed application and maintenance program.

Specifically, through proper application, our patented Synthetic Organic Dust Control products such as EK35® settle onto the surface and form a protective sealant, trapping any fugitive particles and preventing emissions. Non-toxic and non-corrosive, these synthetic fluids rely on binder systems to protect your road from heavy use and foul weather. They can be combined with our soil stabilization technology to engineer a road with the strength and durability of paved asphalt that doesn’t break the community bank.

Regardless of your municipality or township’s transportation needs, Midwest can work with you to develop a reliable and cost-effective maintenance program that ensures peak performance throughout the year and reduces the costs of repair. Our talented team of specialists look forward to helping you overcome all of your unpaved road-related challenges.

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