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Benefits and limitations of installing driving surface aggregate at two federal lands sites

September 30, 2019

The worldwide network of unpaved roads is estimated to include at least 14 million km (8.7 million miles; 1). Although they are vital for local communities, these roads are expensive to maintain and may cause environmental damage through sediment and dust pollution (e.g., 2). Among aggregate-surfaced roads, locally available materials are often used as a surface wearing course, with little or no testing and sometimes no formal specification. The materials vary widely in quality and may deteriorate quickly. As a result, road managers may be forced to increase the frequency of maintenance grading and aggregate replacement to compensate for the poor performance. Improving the quality of surface aggregate on unpaved roads is one strategy for increasing road performance while also reducing environmental impacts. Although higher-quality aggregates require greater up-front investment, they can result in lower overall life-cycle costs by extending road life and reducing maintenance costs.

Driving Surface Aggregate (DSA) is an aggregate specification developed by the Pennsylvania State University Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies that is designed to achieve maximum compaction and resist erosion. The gradation of DSA, coupled with recommended optimum moisture and placement guidelines, results in a smoother, more tightly bound surface that preserves fine material rather than allowing it to escape as sediment or dust. In previous studies, DSA has been shown to reduce sediment runoff by 80-90% (3) and dust production by up to 90% (4) compared to existing road surface gradations. Although DSA has been used extensively in the state of Pennsylvania, USA, the specification is almost unknown elsewhere. The objective of this study was to demonstrate the benefits and limitations of DSA when deployed across a wider geographic area. We installed road sections of DSA at two federal lands sites in the eastern United States. Sediment runoff, dust production, and road surface condition on these sections were measured approximately 12 months post-construction. At both sites, DSA reduced sediment runoff by up to 91%, relative to traditional aggregates. At one site in Indiana, DSA also reduced dust production and aggregate loss. At the other site in Vermont, DSA and traditional aggregate sections performed similarly in dust production and road condition. Overall, this study 1) demonstrates that DSA can be an effective and environmentally responsible aggregate choice for unpaved roads, and 2) provides information on site conditions (e.g., roads near headwater streams) under which DSA is likely to be particularly beneficial.

Publication Year 2019
Title Benefits and limitations of installing driving surface aggregate at two federal lands sites
Authors Bethany K. Kunz, Eric H. Chase, Steve M. Bloser, Maureen A. Kestler, Brandon Jutz
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70213286
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Columbia Environmental Research Center