Why should we be concerned with unpaved roads?


The Problem
A major problem associated with the estimated 1.6 million miles of unpaved roads in the United States is dust. This dust can contribute to a) roadway safety problems due to impaired visibility, b) reduced roadway longevity due to a loss of surfacing/binding materials, c) reduced vehicle life due to the overwhelming presence of abrasive particulates in the air, and d) environmental health issues due to the many negative impacts of particulate matter in the atmosphere. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, road dust is a major source of particulate matter in the atmosphere (second largest source of- PM 2.5, largest source of PM 10). Presently, there is no focused source of information to help transportation agencies address road dust related issues, and no focused agenda/organization to advance the state-of-the-practice in mitigating these issues.

Working Toward a Solution
In 2010, following on the heels of a successful national Road Dust Management and Future Needs Conference (2008) and Road Dust Survey and Scan Tour (2010), the Western Transportation Institute began preparations for the organization of a Road Dust Institute. Joined by the University of Nevada - Las Vegas, University of California - Davis, the Alaska University Transportation Center and the Federal Highway Administration's Central Federal Lands Highway Division, the Dust Institute will collect, store, and distribute information, discuss challenges and needs, and conduct research related to road dust. Since the establishment of the RDI, there has been increased interest in general unpaved road management (e.g., materials, construction, maintenance, etc.), and requests for information on the topic. Based on these developments, the name Road Dust Institute was recently changed in 2015 to Unpaved Roads Institute (URi) to better reflect the change in scope to cover more general unpaved road management issues.  

How does dust affect air quality?
In 2008, the US EPA estimated unpaved roads are responsible for 67%of the total particles found in the air (PM10), identifying unpaved roads as a real health hazard.  Learn More

Why should we suppress dust?
Fugitive dust emanating from vehicle traffic on unpaved roads and runways can have significant impacts on safety, health, quality of life, and the cost of maintenance.  Learn More

Ecology:  What are the environmental impacts from dust?
Research shows that traffic generated dust has a significant impact on agriculture.  Dust may also degrade water quality near gravel roads.  Learn More

Soil Stabilization:  What are the benefits of stabilizing soil?
Fines (or fine particles) act as a binder to help hold the surface of an unpaved road together. With a loss of fines (via dust), there is an increase in roadway surface graveling and maintenance costs - not to mention increased impacts to air quality, water quality, etc.  Learn More

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