Grade a Lane

With the right tools, gravel road maintenance and driveway upkeep are all part of country living.

| July/August 2017

Even as the once ubiquitous gravel road faces extinction in some parts of the country, the unpaved country lane (driveway) is alive and well, thanks to the popularity of the rural lifestyle. Gone with the gravel roads are the fleets of municipal graders and their operators who, for a small consideration, might have been convinced to make a corrective pass on your lane the next time they were in the vicinity. But it doesn’t take a road grader or even any experience with heavy equipment to keep your lane in shape. With the right tools and a little know-how, anyone can keep the road to their place looking great and functioning well in every season.

The trick to keeping your lane in line, assuming it was constructed at least reasonably well in the first place, is in maintaining its water-shedding shape, and that’s pretty easy to do if the road in question hasn’t been neglected for too many years. Ideally, the road should slope evenly (at a rate of about a half-inch per foot) from the center to both edges to keep rainwater or snowmelt from accumulating on its surface. So if your lane is 14 feet wide edge to edge, then the crown should be about 3-1⁄ 2 inches higher than the edges. In some instances, such as when curves are cut into a bank, it makes more sense to slope the road from one edge to the other. In this case, a 14-foot-wide lane should vary in height by about 7 inches side to side.

According to gravel road builder Russ Lanoie of Conway, New Hampshire, in the long run, if you develop a maintenance plan and stick with it, you will not only have a better and safer roadway, it will cost less to keep it that way. A big part of that maintenance plan relates to managing water flow by moving gravel around. And the more often you do it, the less time and effort are required overall.

Routine Grading

The combined effects of gravity and simply driving on a gravel road will tend to push material to the edges — plowing winter snow before the lane is frozen and with a cutting edge set too close to the ground will significantly speed the process. If left to accumulate long enough, the displaced material can develop into berms, which actually trap water and cause ruts to form. The goal of routine grading is to pull the displaced material back onto the road, distributing it evenly and re-establishing the crown.

Pulling material back onto the lane is easily accomplished with a heavy-duty tractor-mounted landscape rake or front blade, particularly if it is fully adjustable. Set either attachment’s angle to draw material toward the lane’s centerline, and its tilt to cut the edge deeper than the road surface, which facilitates crowning. Take care not to be too aggressive on the edges or you will end up creating water-trapping troughs. On most farm lanes, one pass on both sides is all that is required to restore the optimal shape, unless there is severe rutting. Use additional light passes with the grading equipment to clean up remaining trouble spots. Although it is an oft-neglected step, once you have graded the road (especially if you cut its entire surface), take some time to compact it by running the tractor back and forth several times.

Subsequent passes with your vehicles will aid the compacting process — avoid driving on the same track until you have made some attempt to compact the lane’s entire width.

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