Gravel Road


This manual is intended to outline policy and provide guidance to participants of the Dirt, Gravel, and Low-Volume Road Maintenance Program (Program). The primary audience of this manual is county conservation district (district) personnel who work with the administration of the Dirt, Gravel, and Low-Volume Road Maintenance Program. This includes not only district managers and staff but Quality Assurance Board (QAB) members and district directors as well. Grant applicants may find sections of the manual, Chapter 5 in particular, useful when developing projects and preparing grant applications.

Intent and Purpose of the Program

1.1 Program Purpose

The purpose of the Program is to create a better public road system with a reduced environmental impact. The Program focuses on "Environmentally Sensitive Road Maintenance Practices" that reduce the impact of road runoff and sediment to local streams, while reducing long term road maintenance costs.

1.2 Program Structure

Statewide funding and guidance comes from the State Conservation Commission (Commission). Local districts, and their associated Quality Assurance Boards, develop local policies and award grants to public road-owning entities. Public entities such as townships and boroughs apply to the districts for funding and complete the project work.

1.2.1 State Conservation Commission

The Commission, a departmental administrative commission under the concurrent authority of the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the PA Department of Agriculture (PDA), administers the Dirt, Gravel, and Low-Volume Road Program. The Commission determines statewide Program policies, allocates funds to districts, and implements a quality assurance / quality control effort. The role of the Commission is detailed in Chapter 2 of this manual.

1.2.2 Conservation Districts and Quality Assurance Boards (QABs)

Conservation districts administer and implement the Program at the county level. Districts accept applications for funding from potential applicants, and award grants to local road owning entities. District staff is responsible for working with grant applicants to develop projects, project oversight, financial tracking and reporting, and general administration of the Program at the county level. District staff should work closely with the QAB described below. The role of districts is detailed in Chapter 3 of this manual.

Each district is required to form a Quality Assurance Board (QAB) made up of four members including district staff, PA Fish and Boat Commission, and Natural Resource Conservation Service. The QAB acts in an advisory capacity to the district board. The QAB, working closely with district staff, is responsible for recommending local Program policies, developing application ranking criteria, and recommending projects for funding. All policies and funding recommendations by the QAB must be adopted by the district board. The role of the QAB is detailed in Chapter 4 of this manual.

1.2.3 Grant Applicants

Any state or local public entity that owns and maintains public roads is eligible to apply for Program funding. The majority of applicants are townships, but other entities such as boroughs, cities, counties, PA Game Commission, PennDOT, PA Fish and Boat Commission, and others are eligible to apply. Applicants are encouraged to work closely with districts, starting with a pre application meeting. Successful applicants will enter into contracts with county districts to complete project work. Applicants can complete project work themselves, or by hiring contractors. The role of grant applicants is detailed in Chapter 5 of this manual.

1.2.4 Penn State Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies (Center)

The Center was formally created in 2001 to address the education, training, and technical assistance needs of the Dirt, and Gravel Road Maintenance Program. The duties of the Center include: development and delivery of a two-day training course for Program eligibility, holding annual maintenance workshops, providing technical and administrative assistance to Program stakeholders, approval of new products, maintenance of GIS project tracking system, development of technical reference material, and supplying general support to the Commission and districts. The role of the Center is detailed in Chapter 6 of this manual.

1.3 Program History

1.3.1 Unpaved Roads and Sediment

Sediment is the largest pollutant by volume to the waters of the commonwealth. Pennsylvania's 20,000 miles of publicly owned unpaved roads are a prime example of non- point source pollution. Unpaved roads not only generate sediment, but also act as collectors for runoff and sediment from adjacent land uses. Traditional practice in road maintenance has been to convey water along roads and deposit it into streams by the quickest means possible. This practice results in increased flood flows in streams and transports sediment and a host of other pollutant into local waterways.

1.3.2 Unpaved Road Inventory

The Pennsylvania Chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU) first brought the problem of unpaved road runoff into the spotlight in 1991. TU sportsmen in Centre and Potter County State Forests were the driving force behind the developing grassroots effort to reduce sediment pollution from dirt and gravel roads.

A Task Force on Dirt and Gravel Roads was created in 1993 to investigate, research and document the significance of sediment and dust, as well as other forms of water pollution resulting from dirt and gravel road maintenance practices. This private-public partnership enlisted members representing nonprofit organizations, businesses and local, state, and federal government agencies.

In the summers of 1996-1998, volunteers from TU went out at their own expense and drove thousands of miles of roads in an effort to identify pollution sites on Pennsylvania's dirt and gravel roads. TU inventory volunteers recorded locations where roads were adversely impacting a stream, concentrating on Pennsylvania's High Quality and Exceptional Value watersheds. The efforts put forth by the volunteers resulted in the identification and assessment of over 900 sites in protected watersheds statewide. These sites became the basis for creating the Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance Program.

1.3.3 Section 9106 of the PA Vehicle Code

The Task Force achieved its goal in 1997 when a law (Section 9106 of the PA Vehicle Code) was enacted establishing the Pennsylvania Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance Program. The law provided a non-lapsing annual allocation of $5Million, with $4Million going to the State Conservation Commission and $1M going to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The Program follows a few key concepts including: local control over projects and decision making; education and training to local stakeholders; simplified grant applications; and implementing long-term road and environmental improvements.

1.3.4 Program Timeline

1998: First funding available. Projects begin on 900 pollution sites, or worksites, identified in protected watersheds statewide.

2000: Conservation districts complete assessment of all watersheds, identifying over 12,000 pollution sites statewide.

2001: Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies formally created at Penn State University to handle the training, outreach, and technical assistance aspects of the Program.

2003: Conservation districts complete the 1,000th funded worksite through the Program.

2008: A second statewide assessment of unpaved roads in all watersheds increases the inventory to over 16,500 pollution sites statewide.

2009: Conservation districts complete the 2,000th funded worksite through the Program.

2013: Act 89 of 2013 is enacted, effectively increasing the funding for the Program from $5Million to $35Million annually in 2014-15. The Act dedicates $28Million of this to the Commission, and also mandates that $8M of that money be used for the maintenance of low-volume paved roads with less than 500 vehicles per day.

2015: The Program completes its first 74 paved LVR contracts with new funding, Dirt and Gravel completed contracts hit the 3,000 mark.

2018: The first 5-year contract under increased funding is completed, with over 4,300 Dirt and Gravel and 500 LVR contracts completed since the Program began.

1.3.5 Low-Volume Roads

Act 89 of 2013 specifies that "A minimum of $8,000,000 of the total appropriated annually shall be for maintenance and improvement of (paved) low-volume roads." The act further defined low-volume roads as "sealed or paved with an average daily traffic count of 500 vehicles or less." The low-volume road portion of the Program focuses on the same environmental improvements as the Dirt and Gravel Road portion, not just paving and re- paving roads. For more information on the low-volume road specific issues, see Section 7.3.

1.4 Environmentally Sensitive Maintenance Overview

A worksite is an identified portion of road that impacts water quality. The Program uses worksites to focus funding to improve water quality.1.4.1 Worksites

A worksite is an identified portion of a road that impacts water quality. The Program has both paved Low-Volume Road (LVR) worksites and Dirt and Gravel (D&G) worksites. A worksite has an identified beginning and end that demarks the limits of the section of road impacting the stream and other water bodies. The Program uses worksites to ensure project funding is focused only on those sections of road that impact water quality. The areas outside of worksites may be in need of repair or be generating sediment, but do not have a direct connection to a stream or water body (typically on higher ground away from water).

Districts have identified over 17,000 D&G worksites statewide on unpaved roads. The majority of these D&G worksites were identified in statewide "assessments" completed in 2000 and 2008. These assessments also evaluated each worksite according to the "pollution potential" on the site and provided it with a score. Districts may use this assessment score in their application rankings. Worksites have also been added over time as needed. Districts may add worksites to their inventory at any time. Worksites range in size from a single stream crossing to over a mile in length. The average D&G worksite size funded in the first 17 years of the Program is 0.45 miles in length.

There is no established database of potential LVR worksites. LVR worksites should be identified by applicants and confirmed by the districts using similar principles as the D&G worksites (identifying limits of water quality impact).

Environmentally Sensitive Maintenance promotes permanent road improvements that reduce concentrated drainage, prevent erosion, and reduce long-term road maintenance costs.1.42 Environmentally Sensitive Maintenance (ESM)

Because this is an "administrative" manual, only a brief overview of ESM practices is given here. For complete information and documentation of ESM practices, attend the Program’s ESM training or see the technical documentation on the Center’s website.

ESM is a term used to describe a suite of principles and practices that are designed to create a more environmentally and financially sustainable public road system. They are long term practices designed to reduce erosion and maintenance within the road area.

Long-term environmental benefits are achieved by attempting to "restore natural drainage" to a state similar to how it was before the road existed. In contrast to traditional "stormwater systems" that are designed to collect and convey large volumes of runoff, ESM practices focus on diffusing flow at the source, encouraging infiltration and reducing concentrated flow volumes. Environmental benefits of this approach to waterways include reduced sediment and other pollutant delivery, and reduced flood flows by "disconnecting" the road drainage system.

Long-term financial benefits are achieved because the same forces of erosion that cause environmental damage translate into increased maintenance costs as well. Every time a road, ditch, or bank washes out, it requires a large time and money investment by the local road owning entity. Some ESM practices may have higher than average up-front costs, but they save money over their lifetime by reducing future maintenance needs and costs. ESM Principles

  • Avoid concentrating drainage where possible
  • Minimize Flow Volumes
  • Reduce effects of concentrated drainage
  • Reduce surface erosion
  • Reduce cost and frequency of road maintenance Example ESM Practices

The following is a very brief summary of some of the Program’s most common ESM practices taught in the two-day ESM training course:

  • Road/Stream Interactions: ESM practices for stream crossings focus on reducing the sediment delivery to the stream, stream stability issues, and the stream crossing itself. Practices such as highwater bypasses, French mattresses, proper stream crossing sizing, better bridge and pipe design, and in-stream flow control structures can be effectively used to stabilize the road/stream interface.

  • Road Surface: ESM practices for the road surface include drainage control and improved aggregate. Drainage control starts with proper crown and cross-slope, but also includes practices such as grade breaks, berm removal, and broad-based dips. Improved surface aggregate focuses on the Program’s Driving Surface Aggregate and includes maintenance concerns such as grading and pothole repair.

  • Road Base: Practices that improve the base of a road include mechanical base improvements, underdrains, French mattresses, and in some cases full-depth reclamation.

  • Vegetation management practices: Practices that manage vegetation in a sustainable manner will reduce erosion from the road area and save on future maintenance costs associated with tree trimming and cleanup. Practices include selective thinning, proper pruning, seeding and mulching, and managing vegetation for long term stability.

  • Road Bank management practices: Practices that stabilize the upslope or downslope road bank include slope reinforcement, filling the road profile, naturalizing bank shape, and natural or mechanical slope reinforcement.

  • Road Ditch and Outlet Stabilization: ESM practices for ditches include anything that reduces the flow in the ditch. The simplest of these practices is to provide more drainage outlets in the form of new turnouts and crosspipes. Selecting locations to outlet water and choosing the proper outlet stabilization methods is also important. Other practices such as berm removal and filling the road profile attempt to eliminate ditches completely and promote sheet flow. Practices to reduce the effect of subsurface flow such as underdrains are also important.

  • Off right-of way practices: Practices that start outside the road area in an effort to reduce the amount of water coming to the public road. Interceptor swales and bank benches reduce the amount of overland flow coming to the road. Driveways and access lanes are often large contributors of water to the public road and can be addressed by re-profiling or with surface control features such as grade breaks, water bars, or conveyor belt diverters.

  • Paved Low-Volume Road Specific Practices: Low-volume roads may require an added set of ESM practices, especially those located in urban areas where traditional drainage dispersal and infiltration practices may not be practical. LVR- specific practices will evolve over time, but should focus on making improvements to both the environment and the road.