Gravel Roads Construction and Maintenance Guide

Gravel Roads Construction and Maintenance Guide
Gravel Roads Construction and Maintenance Guide
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This guide provides information on what makes a good gravel road surface. Sections of this text have a focus on construction, drainage, surface gravel, and stabilization of roads. The final section covers innovations in the gravel road maintenance and rehabilitation industry. There are new ways of stabilizing roads, new methods of dust control, and different kinds of equipment available for maintenance or rehabilitation of gravel roads. Alternative surface materials such as recycled pavement or blends of recycled and virgin aggregate are being used.

In many cases, gravel roads exist to provide a means of transporting agricultural products in and out of farm fields, timber out of forests, or access remote areas such as campgrounds and lakes. Many gravel roads serve rural residents, as well. Many of these roads will remain unpaved due to very low traffic volume and/or lack of funds to adequately improve the subgrade and base before applying pavement layer(s).

This manual was developed with a major emphasis on the maintenance of gravel surfaced roads, including some basic design elements.

This guide includes a handy list of acronyms, definitions of terms, and appendix with guidance on temporary traffic control for work zones on unpaved roads to include work zone safety measures.

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Public Roads bi-monthly print magazine subscription can be found here:

Standard Specifications for Construction of Roads and Bridges on Federal Highway Projects can be found here:

National Traffic Incident Management Responder Training Program: Train-the-Trainer Guide can be found here:

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Table of Contents

 List of Acronyms

Definition of Terms

Section 1:  Routine Maintenance & Rehabilitation      
1.1       Understanding the Gravel Road Cross Section
1.2       Routine Shaping Principles
1.3       Operating Speed

1.4       Moldboard Angle

1.5       Moldboard Pitch
1.6       Motorgrader Stability

1.7       Articulation
1.8       Windrows
1.9       Crown
1.10     Road Shoulder
1.11     High Shoulders (Secondary Ditches)
1.12     Causes of High Shoulders
1.13     Recovering and Spreading on Roadway
1.14     Breaking up Sod and Vegetation in Recovered Material
1.15     Pulling Shoulders and Removing Material
1.16     Benefit of Mowing
1.17     Gravel Road Rehabilitation 
1.18     Reshaping Surface and Shoulder
1.19     Reshaping Entire Cross Section
1.20     Erosion Control
1.21     Areas of Crown

1.22     Dealing with Corrugation
1.23     Intersections
1.24     Intersection with Paved Roads
1.25     Bridge Approaches
1.26     Superelevation in Curves
1.27     Rail Crossings
1.28     Driveways
1.29     Cattle Guards
1.30     Soft and Weak Subgrades

Section 2:  Drainage
2.1     Introduction
2.2     Ditches
2.3     Culverts and Bridges
2.4     Underdrains

Section III:  Surface Gravel         

3.1       What is Good Gravel?
3.2       Difference in Surface Gravel and Other Uses
3.3       Good Gradation
3.4       Benefit of Crushing
3.5       Recycled Asphalt
3.6       The Benefit of Testing Aggregates
3.7       Reasons for Testing
3.8       Sampling
3.9       Sieve Analysis
3.10     Fines and Plasticity Index
3.11     Reduced Blading and Maintenance Costs
3.12     Process for Obtaining Good Gravel
3.13     Establish Specifications
3.14     Communicate with Suppliers
3.15     Handling Gravel
3.16     Pit/Quarry Operations
3.17     Loading from Stockpiles
3.18     Roadway Preparation
3.19     Calculating Quantity
3.20     Hauling and Dumping
3.21     Windrowing, Equalizing and Spreading

Section IV:  Dust Control/Stabilization
4.1       Introduction
4.2      Types of Stabilizers
4.2.1    Chlorides
4.2.2    Resins
4.2.3    Natural Clays
4.2.4    Petroleum Oils
4.2.5    Portland Cement
4.2.6    Organic Nonpetroleum Oil
4.2.7    Other Commercial Binders
4.3       Benefits of Stabilization
4.4       Reduced Dusting
4.5       Reduced Gravel Loss
4.6       Reduced Blade Maintenance
4.7      Application Tips
4.8       Need for Good Surface Gravel
4.9       Road Preparation
4.10     Optimum Moisture
4.11    Applying the Product
4.12    Test
4.13     Desired Performance

Section V:  Innovations                          
5.1       Changes in Gravel Maintenance
5.2       Changing Conditions – Equipment, Trucks, Cars
5.3       New Innovations
5.4       Innovative Equipment and Methods
5.5       Shoulder Disks
5.6       Windrow Pulverizers
5.7       Moldboard Cutting Edge Options
5.8       Grader-Mounted Mixers
5.9       Grader-Mounted Roller
5.10     Electronic Slope Controls
5.11     Tractor-Mounted or Towed Blading Devices
5.12     Tractor-Mounted Crushers





Figures, Tables, Charts

Appendix A:  Gravel Road Thickness Design Methods
Appendix B:  Gradation and P.I. Determination
Appendix C: Quantity Calculations
Appendix D: When to Pave a Gravel Road
Appendix E:  Walk-around Grader Inspection
Appendix F: Temporary Traffic Control For Work Zones
on Unpaved Roads


Local agency officials, managers, grader operators, equipment managers, heavy equipment operators, dirt road maintenance graders, and gravel plant operators and road supervisors who are responsible for designing and maintaining gravel surfaced roads will likely benefit from this resource. Additionally, students pursuing degrees in construction management or construction technology, as well as state, municipal. academic, and public libraries should have a copy of this guide available for patrons' research.

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Transportation Dept., Federal Highway Administration
Key Phrases:
  • FWHA Publication No. FHWA OTS 15 0002
  • Highways and Roads
  • Highway Engineering
  • Highway Maintenance
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