Established in 2010, the purpose of the Road Dust Institute was to collect, store, and distribute information related to unpaved road management with a specific focus on road dust, provide a suite of services to road agencies, owners and chemical treatment manufacturers and distributors, discuss challenges and needs, and conduct and/or facilitate research. 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.
The Unpaved Roads Institute (URi) provides tools and services to manage unpaved roads through research, services, education, and technology transfer to support improvements in unpaved road and airfield management, health, safety, mobility, environmental sustainability, and livability. The unique knowledge, experience and capabilities the URi team presents opportunities to collaborate, partner and consolidate resources to address the needs of industry, government and other stakeholders to optimize the performance of unpaved roads and airfields.
The main objective of the Unpaved Road Institute website is to create a forum for storing and disseminating research and other related information while establishing outreach efforts to improve the state of the practice. All of this will ultimately help improve our nation’s air, water and environmental conditions associated with unpaved roads.
Why Establish an Unpaved Roads Institute?
There are millions of miles of unpaved (or unsealed, or gravel) roads around the world, which are managed by national road authorities, state, provincial, or local road agencies, national park and national forest authorities, forestry and mining companies, farmers, and tourism, railroad, and utility companies. There are also numerous unproclaimed roads that no one takes responsibility for, but which serve an important need such as access to health clinics in informal communities in developing countries. Unacceptable levels of dust, poor riding quality, impassability in wet weather, and unsustainable gravel replacement practices are experienced on much of this global unpaved road network, and although it is acknowledged that these roads are fundamental to the economies of almost every country in the world, many of the management practices followed leave much to be desired, with programs for routine maintenance and gravel replacement, dust control, chemical stabilization, and low-cost upgrading largely overlooked.
A major problem associated with the approximate 1.6 million miles of unpaved roads in the United States is the dust generated by vehicles and wind. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, road dust is the second largest source of PM 2.5 and largest source of PM 10 over the continental USA and hence a major source of atmospheric pollution leading to a number of significant impacts including, but not limited to:
- Increased human and environmental health issues
- Roadway safety problems due to impaired visibility
- Increased road roughness, associated maintenance costs, and gravel replacement intervals linked to washboarding and raveling caused by the loss of fines that bind surface aggregates.
- Reduced vehicle life due to contaminated filters and abrasion on moving parts
- Reduced water quality in adjacent streams and water bodies
- Reduced quality of life for adjacent land owners
Presently, there is no focused national agenda, organization or source of information to help transportation agencies and other road owners address unpaved road management issues in general, and those related to the loss of fines in the form of road dust in particular.
One approach to managing unpaved roads is the use of appropriate chemical treatment programs, which if correctly implemented, can provide satisfactory fines preservation/dust control and all-weather passability on most road surfaces until sufficient funds become available for more durable surfaces. Provided that appropriate construction and maintenance practices are followed, and the treatments are rejuvenated at regular intervals, chemically treated roads require less maintenance, lose gravel at a slower rate, and are often structurally adequate to function as a base or subbase in staged construction of sealed roads. Although there are more than 200 commercially available products available for dust control and surface stabilization, some such as chlorides and lignosulfonates in use for more than 100 years, the use of chemical treatments is still not considered standard practice by most road agencies and road owners, with only a few industries (e.g., mining) applying them in every-day operations. There are a number of reasons for this lack of implementation:
- The informal and expedient approach to research and testing of the treatments during development and the way in which the results are presented.
- The lack of formal product and product category specifications and credible organizations that offer some form of fit-for-purpose certification of chemical treatments.
- The limited availability of detailed guidelines and specifications for the establishment, design, implementation, and maintenance of unpaved road management strategies in general, and strategies that make use of chemical treatments in particular.
- The inadequacy of information for road owners to make an informed decision on what treatment strategy to use in a given situation, or which management approach will result in the best use of available funds.
- The lack of guidance for chemical treatment manufacturers on how to evaluate laboratory and field performance of chemical treatments (both in terms of fines preservation and environmental impact) and how to prepare guideline documents on the best use of a treatment, with a view to obtaining some form of fit-for-purpose certification.
- The absence of industry associations that promote the use of chemical treatments in unpaved road management strategies.
In 2010, following the successful national Road Dust Management and Future Needs Conference (2008) and Road Dust Survey and Scan Tour (2010), the Western Transportation Institute, in association with the Federal Highway Administration’s Central Federal Lands Highway Division, the University of California – Davis, the University of Nevada – Las Vegas, and the Alaska University Transportation Center, initiated the organization of the Road Dust Institute now Unpaved Road Institute (URi). The purpose of the Road Dust Institute would be to collect, store, and distribute information related to unpaved road management with a specific focus on road dust, provide a suite of services to road agencies, owners and chemical treatment manufacturers and distributors, discuss challenges and needs, and conduct and/or facilitate research. To accomplish this goal a business plan, strategic plan, and marketing plan were developed to help establish the Road Dust Institute as a viable association dedicated to improving unpaved road management with a special focus on fines preservation/dust control, as well as engage the unpaved road and road dust abatement communities as a whole. 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.