Wired magazine recently reported on the un-paving of American roads. That's right, several states have chosen to un-pave their roads and replace them with gravel rather than spend money they don't have to fix them. Here's one example from Vermont:
Repaving roads is expensive, so Montpelier instead used its diminishing public works budget to take a step back in time and un-pave the road. Workers hauled out a machine called a “reclaimer” and pulverized the damaged asphalt and smoothed out the road’s exterior. They filled the space between Vermont’s cruddy soil and hardier dirt and gravel up top with a “geotextile”, a hardy fabric that helps with erosion, stability and drainage...
By un-paving instead of repaving, Montpelier saved about $120,000—a big chunk for a city whose annual budget for street building and repairs was $1.3 million in 2009.
Unfortunately, removing the pavement isn't free, but it's still far cheaper than fixing up the road, and long-term, the costs of replacing the gravel remain lower than paving in the future, especially as the costs of pavement materials increase. Wired explains that this is actually a nationwide trend:
Transportation agencies in at least 27 states have unpaved roads, according to a new report from the National Highway Cooperative Highway Research program. They’ve done the bulk of that work in the past five years.
This is promising news for our efforts to encourage #NoNewRoads. It means states are waking up to the absurdly high costs of maintaining their overextended infrastructure and taking action.
Unfortunately, just because these states are choosing not to fix certain roads doesn't mean they aren't also choosing to build new ones or expand existing ones. Based on data gathered by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which we reported on earlier this year, Vermont, for example, still spent 12% of its overall transportation budget on "New Road Capacity" from 2011-2014 (the latest date for which data is available on this site). For other states, that number is much higher. (Learn more and investigate your state here.)
Nonetheless recognizing that current funding simply doesn't allow for the maintenance of certain roads and prioritizing which ones to maintain is a step in the right direction. What's also promising is the public response to something that might be viewed as a controversial choice, especially for residents who regularly use these now-gravel roads. As Wired explains: "most of the community leaders interviewed by the report’s authors said their residents approved of de-paving, especially if agencies kept them informed about the process."
(Top photo by Titoine08)