The expansive network of rural unpaved roads (also referred to as dirt or gravel roads) throughout Franklin County is particularly vulnerable to the effects of changing precipitation patterns, flooding, and freeze-thaw cycles causing more frequent and involved maintenance work. During “mud season” or very high rain events, these roads can become impassable and many households can become isolated and stranded. Due to climate change, “mud season” is happening several times a year, rather than historically only in the late spring. These repetitive recurrences increase municipal costs, impair critical emergency access, and intensify the amount of sediment washing into nearby waterbodies and sensitive habitats. Small towns, particularly those with many unpaved roads can be hit even harder with costs of maintenance and labor to mitigate these side effects.
Road Assessments in Franklin County
In the spring of 2022, the FRCOG conducted a survey of Highway Superintendents in Franklin County and the surrounding region to better understand the issues related to unpaved roads and the costs that are involved in both regular maintenance and emergency repairs. The FRCOG also created an online, interactive map for regional residents to mark specific locations of unpaved roads issues: https://rb.gy/blj9qa.
The results show that the majority of the towns said that they spend at least $25,000, and up to $120,000, on dirt/gravel road maintenance per year. A typical statistic for towns is they will spend four times as much on maintenance of unpaved roads as they do on paved roads or will need to defer basic maintenance due to lack of funding.
Most unpaved roads are classified as local roads and therefore are not eligible for federal funding for maintenance or reconstruction that is programmed through the regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). This limits potential funding options for towns to using Chapter 90 or state grant funds. Many of the Highway Superintendents stated on the survey that this funding is not sufficient because the most needed funding is for more expensive and complicated projects that would require design, engineering, and road reconstruction to bring these unpaved roads up to current standards and make them more resilient to the effects of climate change.
The FRCOG is using the data collected through these surveys to create a Dirt Roads Stormwater Management Toolkit funded by both 3C Transportation Planning funds and a Nonpoint Source Pollution grant through the MA Department of Environmental Protection. The information from these surveys will help provide the FRCOG with realistic strategies and best management practices to maintain and preserve unpaved roads to both reduce maintenance costs and protect sensitive environmental resources. Work is currently underway to develop a field assessment methodology and culvert right-sizing protocol.
Kimberly MacPhee, P.G., CFM
This publications provides answers to frequently asked questions regarding gravel roads, and a reference for numerous resources that are available on the subject. Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Gravel…