Gravel Road Maintenance
Fact: More than 750 of the 2,700-plus miles of the Road Commission for Oakland County's (RCOC) county roads are not paved and they won't be for years
People call them "dirt," but unpaved roads really are gravel (plus sand and clay).
Gravel roads can cause as much trouble for drivers as they do for RCOC. Drainage problems are common because many of today's gravel roads evolved from trails or cattle paths and were not designed by engineers.
Summer means applying extra gravel, mowing shoulders, ditching, cleaning culverts and grading. It can also mean dusty gravel roads. For less dust and a better road surface, RCOC's Dust Control Program crews spray calcium chloride brine four times throughout the summer's dust season on some gravel roads.
Lower cost brine from Road Commission wells has made the dust-control program self-supporting (RCOC no longer has to buy chloride brine as it once did). To find out if your community pays for road chloriding (many do), call the Department of Customer Services at (877) 858-4804. In non-participating areas, residents can pay to have chloriding performed.
Grading smooths gravel roads. However, it also breaks up the chlorided surface and creates dust, so it is performed about every four to five weeks. A safety concern may mean grading sooner.
Gravel Road Dust-Control Schedule
Gravel roads can be troublesome in winter. Frozen ground cannot be graded, and snow or ice removal and snow plowing are all more difficult. More gravel can be applied for safety. Sand is spread on curves and corners for traction. Salt cannot be used on gravel roads because it soaks in and will not bond to the gravel surface to make an ice-melting "brine."
Snow plowing is performed on a priority basis similar to paved roads. Check online for more information regarding snow removal.
Gravel Road Fast Facts:
- Over 750 mile of gravel roads: more than a quarter of RCOC roads
- RCOC owns only 19 motor graders
- How many miles each grader can reshape/grade in a day? Not as many as you would think. Each grader does 5 to 6 miles of roads daily. Schedule rotation takes 4 to 6 weeks, so if you have been waiting 3 weeks since the last grading, you may still have to wait for a bit.
- Speed at which graders move – 3 miles per hour
- Multiple passes necessary to grade the road; grading is not completed in one pass.
- Very expensive equipment. Operator needs to be properly trained. Gravel road grading is an art as well as a science.
- If the grader operators feel pressured to cover more miles, it can also create washboarding problems. Needs to be done slow and steady; can’t be rushed
- Graders need maintenance. They have mechanical breakdowns.
- Weather can affect the schedule. Gravel roads can’t be graded if it is too wet or in driving rain.
- Chloride applications have to be coordinated with grading to avoid dust problems.
- Many moving parts to the grading schedule. It is important that crews adhere to the schedule to avoid missing a road.
- SLOW DOWN! Once the road is graded, slow down -- the smoother surface will last longer.
Gravel Road Paving
Paving solves many gravel road problems, but lack of funding prevents RCOC from paving large amounts of gravel roadway. Although more people are moving to rural areas with gravel roads (increasing traffic and maintenance), their roads still serve fewer people than paved roads. Without an increase in funding, pothole patching, winter maintenance, and safety improvements on higher-traffic paved roads will be the priority - and many gravel roads will remain unpaved.
This frustrates some ex-city dwellers. To them "the country" has meant dust, ruts, and being last for road services. They want roads paved (or maintained as if they were).
Others - concerned about more traffic or the loss of trees - oppose paving, even if money is available.
When to Pave
Planners say that gravel roads should be paved when traffic exceeds 500 cars a day (maintenance is more costly and less effective at higher traffic volumes).
However, RCOC simply does not have the revenue to pave most of the gravel roads that should be paved. The agency receives $1.5 million per year in federal funds designated for gravel road paving. It costs, on average, about $2 million to pave a mile of gravel primary road. Consequently, it will be many, many years before most gravel roads in Oakland County are paved.
There are no gravel roads in newer subdivisions. For over 30 years, developers have been required to pave subdivision streets. Some have also paid to pave roads to their developments.
For more information, see our Gravel Roads Brochure.
Gravel Roads Photo Gallery
Gravel Road Travel Caution Press Release (2019)