Trend Watch: Unpaving Rural America "Back To The Stone Age"

dustry road photo

Dusty road. Image

Until the 1950's, gravel roads were the norm outside the core developed zones of American towns and cities. Guess what? Gravel roads are back in vogue. Tax revenues are so far down and asphalt prices rising so far that State and local governments can no longer afford to repair and repave. So they are un-paving, which means changes to the modern lifestyle. Forget texting and coffee drinking on a gravel road. Gravel roads are forbidding to sleek low riders, road bikes, and convertibles.

Wall Street Journal has covered the new trend in the story:Roads to Ruin: Towns Rip Up the Pavement . Below is the money quote.

Rebuilding an asphalt road today is particularly expensive because the price of asphalt cement, a petroleum-based material mixed with rocks to make asphalt, has more than doubled over the past 10 years. Gravel becomes a cheaper option once an asphalt road has been neglected for so long that major rehabilitation is necessary.

Making green sense of it.
There are many environmental dimensions to this trend. Making sense of it on balance is difficult. Here are some of the factors.

  • Asphalt is a refining byproduct. Less will be needed (either way).

  • Vehicle speed is slowed as a practical matter, which means higher mileage.

  • Rolling friction is increased, which means more fuel consumed

  • More car washing is required, absolutely.

  • More erosive sediment movement from the cartway and into streams and lakes.

  • More cracked windows and chipped paint and broken headlights, which mean more materials consumed.