When you think about building a road, you probably picture the paving equipment you’ve seen when the infrastructure is being updated in your community.
Yet, much more goes into building a road than just getting out heavy machinery and going at it.
There are long periods of planning and preparation that take place before a single scoop of soil can be moved.
Part of this planning process involves knowing what to put under the road to provide strength, structure, and drainage.
In this blog, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about building a road. Let’s get started.
1. WHY WOULD I NEED TO KNOW HOW TO BUILD A ROAD?
If you’ve just found the perfect property, but there’s only a dirt road for you to drive on to approach it, then you already know the answer.
Knowing how to build a road is necessary when building a home or just improving your house’s appearance.
Not all properties come with roads paved.
This project could be in your future!
2. HOW DO I START BUILDING A ROAD?
The first step to building a road is having a plan, and the first step to forming a plan is doing research and asking the right questions.
What does your city or state say about the process of building a road?
What is your purpose behind it?
What obstacles may stand in your way?
What type of road do you need? Will you use asphalt or concrete?
Will you pave just the road, or will you need an additional area for parked cars or space to ride bikes?
How will the local terrain and weather conditions impact your project?
What are the pros and cons of the finish you choose?
How might this project impact your taxes?
How will you fund the project?
These are just some of the questions you may ask yourself as you begin to dive deeper into this process.
Don’t forget to reach out and discuss these topics with experts along the way.
They’ll help guide you through the process, especially if you’re new to construction.
3. DO I NEED TO HAVE PERMITS?
The need for permits will ultimately depend on your county or city regulations.
Some require an entrance or driveway permit while others don’t require anything.
You may also need to keep your neighborhood in mind.
If you have a homeowner association, then you may require specific approval from then before you start any kind of construction project.
Finally, you should check to see if the fire department has any stipulations for approval.
With some road building projects at private homes, people add gates.
In the case of an emergency, the fire department may require a key or access code to gain entry or a certain amount of space for turnaround.
This is something you’ll want to clear with them ahead of time.
4. HOW DO I SET A BUDGET?
The best way to understand the cost to build a road is to speak with a professional.
Each project is unique, and the price will depend on the size, materials use, amount of labor, etc.
Once you’ve determined a budget, be sure to add an additional 10 to 15 percent buffer for any unforeseen additions to your project.
If you’re struggling to understand what your money could be going to, here’s what you should be considering.
5. WHAT MATERIALS DO I NEED?
The proper materials for your road will ultimately be determined by your location.
So, there’s no “easy” answer.
Your region’s climate and climate will be the determining factor here.
That said, you should keep in mind that anything you use should drain well.
Make sure you select the proper gravel as either surface or base material.
We recommend testing and purchasing the best gravel in the prospective environment.
While this is additional work, it is often well worth the investment.
In the long-term, you’ll enjoy lower maintenance costs.
6. HOW DO I MAKE SURE I HAVE THE RIGHT DRAINAGE?
Roadways with poor drainage can never be fully maintained.
As such, it’s up to you to make sure this feature is correctly built into your road the first time.
Any water that stands on your road or next to your road will compromise its integrity.
Some ways that you can mitigate these risks is by…
Selecting a good profile of gravel
Keeping the correct shape of the road
Preventing water from pooling by using culverts, drains, bridges, and underdrains
7. WHAT’S THE PROCESS OF BUILDING A ROAD?
A road project will have five stages.
We’ll talk through each of those five stages in this section.
Phase 1: Planning
Planning is one of the most important parts of building a road, but not many people know about how much planning goes into the roads they drive on.
When you start a road project, you must first understand what your local Department of Transportation (DOT) or Building Department requires in order to issue a permit.
You should then work with an engineer as well as landscape architects, soil scientists, and other professionals to ensure you have the right information to build your road.
These professionals will help you draw a plan of your road.
Some other things you should consider in the planning process include…
Phase 2: Design
Alright, now that you’ve done some research and planning, it’s time to head into phase two of the project: design.
You’ll need to survey the area before you proceed as many factors can influence this portion of the project.
Fortunately, technologies like GPS and laser surveys have improved accuracy and make this significantly easier.
While you’re surveying the land, be sure to keep the following factors in mind.
- Terrain and soil properties
- Drainage capabilities
- Traffic volume
- Ratio of cars to trucks and buses
- Possible future development in the area
- Effects of the environment or nearby residents
Phase 3: Earthwork
Now you’re ready to get your hands dirty.
Earthwork is the phase of this process where road construction starts.
It is especially important to do this part right because, if you don’t, your final product won’t turn out the way you desire.
Earthwork helps to establish a stable foundation, an important component of the road overall.
Without solid base layers, your road will crumble.
You must pay attention to all layers of the road – no layer is more important than the other.
Here are the steps you’ll follow:
- The contractor will build embankments using cuts and fills.
- Grader or bulldozer will level the screened dirt.
You must level the bumps and fill in the dips in order to create a surface that will support a road for decades.
- The screened dirt will be sprayed with water and compacted to its maximum density.
- Contractors will install drains and sewers.
The center of the roads will be higher than the edges so that water will run off into the storm sewers.
Drainage is critical because otherwise new pavement will not last as long.
- You must have the road inspected (and it must pass inspection) before the project can continue.
- Earthwork will be completed with 12-inch layers of gravel on the roadbed.
Workers will moisten and compact each layer.
Layers will be added and compacted until the roadbed reaches the height called for in the design.
Phase 4: Paving
You’ve completed earthwork, and now it’s time to move on to paving.
During your research, you likely learned about factors like the cost of maintaining the road, the cost of paving materials, and the amount and type of traffic.
From that, you’ll have decided on either asphalt or concrete pavement.
Here are the differences.
- Asphalt uses a petroleum product called bitumen to glue together the sand and crushed rock.
This mixture is heated to approximately 300 degrees as the asphalt plant.
During the road-building process, workers will spread and compact hot asphalt on the roadbed.
- Concrete mixes cement and water to make a glue to place between the sand and crushed rock.
Construction workers will place concrete into steel molds called forms.
A finishing machine will vibrate and trim the concrete to the necessary height.
Workers will then cut joints between the concrete slabs to prevent cracking.
At each joint, wire baskets and steel dowels will connect the slabs.
This way, the slabs will expand and contract as the temperature changes.
The slabs can slide along the dowels from side to side, but not up and down.
Phase 5: Open to Traffic
Your new road must be tested before it can be opened to the public.
This can be done using seismology equipment, which will measure the vibrations of the new pavement.
If there is too much vibrant, then the pavement must be ground down to ensure a smooth surface.
Then, you’ll need to do another drainage test, grading and landscaping around the pavement (if applicable), and permanent pavement markings (if applicable).
Once you’ve done this, you’re in the clear.
8. HOW DO I MAINTAIN MY ROAD?
Regardless of how you build a road, all roads need proper maintenance to ensure it performs well.
Here are the best tips for keeping roads in good condition.
Keep the water away from the road
Water can really damage your road because of its weight.
If your road isn’t built correctly, it can cause your roads to crumble prematurely.
You can see this in a number of different ways.
For example, surface water and traffic often lead to potholes and cracking.
Additionally, water can generally cause erosion and breakdown of the pavement.
You can avoid this by having shoulders to take the water away from the road and into ditches.
Ditches will help take the water away from the road and also connect to culverts that will channel water from one side of the road to the other to help reduce erosion.
Just make sure you’re maintaining these ditches to keep them clean and to protect the base material of your road.
Build your road on a firm foundation
While roads often wear out on top, they fail from below.
Your road needs to have a firm foundation first and foremost.
Don’t go cheap on the material for your foundation!
Use high-quality materials
Maintenance is difficult when you aren’t working with high-quality materials to begin with.
While the supply of natural, high-quality materials is being depleted, you can still invest in blended or crushed gravel, which is a less expensive alternative.
Compact all levels well
Make sure that each level of your road (base, subbase, and surface material) is property compacted.
Otherwise, water or air may enter the road and cause it to fail.
Compaction expels the air between the materials and makes them denser.
Be sure to use moisture during this process.
Design your road for winter maintenance
If you design your road with winter maintenance in mind, then it will hold up well during the winter as well as the other seasons.
If you do not, then it will hold up during all other seasons, but perform poorly during the winter.
Make sure it is wide enough to run a plow if that’s relevant in your area, and grades should be between 1 and 10 percent for drainage purposes.
Remember, steep roads are difficult to travel, especially in the winter.
Build for traffic loads and volumes
Only you know how much traffic your road will get.
Often people build a road for residential purposes without any thought as to whether the traffic could increase, or they could have work trucks at their house one day.
Make sure you design your roads for heavier loads or volumes if that will ever be the case.
Pave roads only if they’re ready
Your road must be paved only when it has well-compacted layers of free-draining aggregate.
If you rush it to the paving stage, it won’t be easy to maintain.
Build from the bottom up
Don’t just glaze over the problem and expect it to be fixed.
Look at the root of the cause and fix that.
Is the base the problem?
Is it the drainage?
Do you need to remove old material and rebuild the road?
Avoid just placing a band-aid over the problem because that won’t work long-term.