With Money Tight, More Towns Are Unpaving Their Roads

Public works spending isn't keeping up with basic maintenance costs
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 17, 2016 12:41 PM CDT
With Money Tight, More Towns Are Unpaving Their Roads
In this Sept. 18, 2013, file photo, workers survey the scene on Highway 34 near Loveland, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. Colorado transportation officials are scrambling to replace key mountain highways with at least gravel before the first winter storms hit as early as October.   (AP Photo/Chris Schneider, File)

With infrastructure spending at a low point and infrastructure itself getting a D grade as judged by the American Society of Civil Engineers, paved roads that are crumbling and full of potholes are becoming more commonplace. And now, according to a new report out by the National Highway Cooperative Highway Research program, rural areas across the country are intentionally ripping up stretches of pavement in a return to gravel, reports Wired. The bar is, indeed, low: The report uncovered a widespread sentiment among residents that in spite of the extra dust and other nuisances, depaving is fine because at least the worst roads are getting some form of attention.

The phenomenon isn't exactly new. Back in 2010 the Wall Street Journal took note of the trend and reported that South Dakota had recently turned about 100 miles of asphalt road to gravel; nearly half of Michigan counties had converted at least some roads in this way; some counties in Alabama and Pennsylvania were further downgrading asphalt to chip-and-seal "poor man's pavement"; and some counties in Ohio were so broke they were letting roads naturally erode to gravel. John Habermann of Purdue University warned at a seminar he called "Back to the Stone Age" that no roads are free roads, and that in the long run gravel's need to be graded and smoothed can actually cost more than regular asphalt maintenance. (Members of both political parties agree that the way we fund roads is a joke.)

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