Choosing the Right Road Surface Is Essential to the Environment

Choosing the Right Road Surface Is Essential to the Environment

In Environment, Soil Stabilization, Surface Management by Frank Elswick

A look at the importance of choosing and maintaining the road surface of operational and haul roads, helping protect the environment and ensuring our ecosystem stays in balance.

Paved roads in areas of biological importance can have a detrimental effect on the environment. Roads need to be located wisely and made of materials that consider the environment, especially in tropical and subtropical areas, which are so important to keeping our air healthy and climate stable.

The Threat of Roads

“The best thing you could do for the Amazon is to blow up all the roads,” says Professor Eneas Salati, a forest climatologist and one of the most respected scientists in Brazil.

According to Eco-Business, Salati’s concerns are fairly common within the scientific community: illegal road construction in the areas surrounding the Amazon basin has led to more of the deforestation, poaching, and forest fires that have long plagued that region, making development of the rainforest’s precious resources nearly impossible to regulate.

The International Energy Agency (IEC) predicts that by 2050 there will be 60 percent more roads than in 2010, working out to around 25 million kilometers of freshly laid pavement – enough to circle the earth more than 600 times. The number of roads is growing at a rapid pace, in part due to the infrastructure required for the timber, minerals, oil, and gas industries, as well as the emerging renewable energy sector.

About nine-tenths of new roads will be built in developing countries, a prospect that the IEA’s report describes as dangerous: these nations contain the tropical and subtropical rain forests and savanna woodlands, the most biologically important ecosystems in the world.

These types of environments are home to hundreds of indigenous cultures, responsible for storing billions of tons of carbon, and play a crucial role stabilizing the global climate.

Gravel Surfaces

Though the ease of paved pathways gives way to unexpected problems for the environment, the alternative, untreated gravel roads, causes problems of its own.

A report on gravel surface management by the government of British Columbia highlights the environmental issues that come with the maintenance of gravel roads. Patching and sealing, shoulder maintenance, and road base stabilization can introduce sediment and other harmful substances to a watercourse.

Runoff from newly placed or disturbed gravel can take its toll on riparian vegetation and other habitats through the side casting of aggregate.

Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. has recognized the costly and damaging problems of gravel roads that hold them back from being a greener alternative to paved ones. Through the development of their dust control technology, the company hopes to provide a greener, more responsible way of accessing industrial sites.

Road Dust Control

Midwest’s haul and operations road dust control keeps road dust and other roadway material on the ground and in the roadway, improving road and running surfaces, extending surface life and reducing equipment wear and tear.

An environmentally friendly alternative to the asphalt and concrete, the products will not contaminate groundwater with volatile organic compounds, semi-volatiles or heavy metals.

Nor do these compounds increase BOD or CPD levels. Instead, Midwest’s products actually improve the quality of stormwater. Using this method, companies can actively conserve water while ensuring compliance with the PM10 and PM2.5 requirements of the Clean Air Act.

Soil Stabilization

If roads are to be built, they should be built to be strong and reliable. Less maintenance not only means reduced costs to companies, but also less energy required to fix them – if they need to be fixed at all. High costs to fix and maintain industrial and haul roads might mean they don’t get fixed at all.

Midwest’s soil stabilization solutions provide compressive strength, increasing the road’s structural integrity and loading capacity. This multi-layered approach extends surface life because of its superior bonding capability, minimizing maintenance and repair on both the roads and the equipment that uses them.

The forest and wilderness areas in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world need to be protected from the threats presented by our ever-expanding highways. Roads are essential to economic and social development, and they’re especially important for the timber, mining, and energy industries. Controlling dust, minimizing environmental impact, and making our roads more reliable helps to protect regions like these without cutting off access.

(Image credit: Michael Coghlan/flickr)

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