It’s a pretty rare thing for anyone under the age of 40 to recall a time when they drove a car on a gravel road. That’s because even the most rural areas of America saw the paving of roads everywhere since the 1970s. These are roads that link farms, industrial sites and remote recreational areas with the highway systems used for cross-country transportation.
But that trend is being reversed. I write on Pothole.info about pavement-to-gravel conversions that arehappening in many parts of the U.S. This is due to empty county and small town public coffers, a problem that has two components working in synergy.
Just at a time when the roads are aging and in need of rehabilitation – i.e., potholes going unfixed – the price of oil is soaring. There are two simple factors that cause this to happen: oil byproducts are a component of asphalt, and the price of crude has gone from $76 to $102 per barrel since 2010. Funding for road maintenance is heavily dependent on gas taxes, which are levied per gallon – at a time when cars are becoming more fuel efficient and the economic recession has reduced driving overall.
More repairs required plus less money to make the repairs equals de-prioritized least-used roads. Several counties have purchased or rented pulverizing equipment to tear up the asphalt that remains, which is then laid down as a base for the gravel road.
The shifts in how we deal with public infrastructure is an ongoing narrative of Pothole.info. It’s a national story that affects everyone in all kinds of ways.