Gravel Road

Program History

Unpaved Roads and Sediment

Sediment is the largest pollutant by volume to the waters of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 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.

unoff from an unpaved road enters a high-quality stream
Runoff from an unpaved road enters a high-quality stream
at one of Pennsylvania's thousands of stream crossings

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.

Pennsylvania's High Quality and Exceptional Value watersheds
Pennsylvania's High Quality (light blue) and Exceptional Value (dark blue) watersheds

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 Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance 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

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 $5 Million to $35 Million annually in 2014-15.  The Act dedicates $28 Million 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.

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.