On unpaved roads, crews plow snow and apply either sand or a mixture of sand and salt to provide traction for motorists. Straight salt is not applied to frozen gravel roads because it would thaw the road surface, making the road more susceptible to damage and material loss.
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Unpaved road maintenance is weather-dependent, therefore GTCRC does not have a firm maintenance schedule. Grading can cause damage when roads are too wet. If the roads are too dry, dust can become a hazard for motorists and neighboring property owners. Typically, GTCRC grades gravel roads 2x per year (before a scheduled dust control application). Our crews are careful not to over-grade, which can cause unnecessary erosion and bigger maintenance problems in the future.
During the summer and fall, our crews are grading unpaved roads almost every day of the week. If they were to wait until there was no chance of rain in the forecast, they would never be able to keep up with grading the nearly 350 miles of unpaved roads we have in Grand Traverse County.
We do try and avoid grading a road before a major downpour but as with all weather, is difficult to predict with 100% accuracy. It’s also important to know that a little moisture on a road surface does help to soften the road surface which actually helps the graded road bind together better than when conditions are dry.
We can and do try, but thawing snow and frost pose challenges. As temperatures warm, what was once frozen turns soft and unstable and will remain this way until the moisture evaporates from the road bed. The best cure is warm, dry temperatures and a good wind. Adding gravel to muddy roads has little effect because the gravel mixes with the mud and creates more mud.
Once weather allows, it usually takes us 5-6 weeks each spring for us to grade every mile of unpaved road in the county.
Dust control, as with all unpaved road maintenance is weather-dependent, therefore GTCRC does not have a firm maintenance schedule available.
During the dry summer and fall months, usually May to October, our crews can help stabilize gravel roads by applying brine (a salt/water mixture) to the road surface. The application of brine decreases dust and attracts the right amount of moisture to help keep the gravel road held together.
Primary county roads receive two brine applications per season. The number of brine applications on local roads are determined each year by each individual township.
Like pothole patching on paved roads, filling small spots with gravel helps to keep the road surface safe for the traveling public.
Significant gravel hauls are considered resurfacing work and beyond routine maintenance. Applying gravel to help “lift” a road could cost between $50,000 - $75,000 per mile. Most unpaved roads are classified as local roads and therefore require a township directive and participation in funding.
In Grand Traverse County, most unpaved roads are classified as local roads. Unfortunately, the amount of state funding allocated towards local roads does not cover the costs of winter maintenance and road grading. Understanding that there is simply not enough funding to improve the County’s local roads, GTCRC has established a program which offers each township matching funds to promote partnership and encourage investment in local roads. Regulations require that a local road project’s funding must be at least 50% funded by a source other than Michigan Transportation Fund (GTCRC's main source of funding). This is accomplished typically through a township establishing a Special Assessment District.
GTCRC clears snow and ice from the county’s roads based on a priority system. Crews will clear highways and paved roads before moving onto gravel and subdivision roads. To learn more about our winter maintenance, view our FAQ.
Paving is commonly deemed appropriate when traffic on a gravel road approaches 500 or more cars per day. Many gravel roads in Grand Traverse County experience traffic volumes well above this threshold. Unfortunately, current funding sources do not provide the GTCRC with the revenue to take on the costs of paving these roads. Paving gravel roads typically require a township directive and funding from a source other than the road commission.