City of Farmington Hills: There’s a science to caring for gravel roads

If your home abuts one of the 22 miles of gravel residential roads in Farmington Hills, then you know that living on a gravel road can be challenging, especially during the winter.

Over the years, the City’s Division of Public Works has heard many concerns from residents about gravel road maintenance. There is a science to how the City maintains gravel roads and keeps them safe for travel by using specific maintenance procedures and materials.

Farmington Hills Gravel Roads

Several times throughout the year, City staff grade, add gravel, and treat roads with a dust control product. If your road has ditches at each side, this will ensure better drainage, which is necessary for optimal road conditions. The gravel road will deteriorate more quickly if the rain water and snow melt sit on the road surface.

The material used for gravel road surfaces is made up of stones, sand, and clay. This allows it to be shaped and compacted, forming a crust to assist with rain runoff, and also makes it easy to regrade the road. The City has received requests from residents to use limestone instead of road gravel, but limestone does not have the properties needed for proper gravel road surfaces. It is much dustier, more difficult to regrade once potholes develop, and does not carry the rain off the road and into the ditches.

During the winter, once the road freezes, not much cutting and reshaping of the surface can occur and additional gravel is only added to fill potholes. Salt cannot be applied since it will only melt the surface ice and make the road impassable. The City applies sand to the icy road surface to provide traction as you drive over the frozen road.

As the spring thaw (and freeze/thaw cycle) begins, gravel roads become challenging to drive on and also difficult to maintain. This is largely due to the frozen road thawing from the top down, which causes the wet top layers to “float” on the frozen subsurface until all of the frost is gone.

During these times, the DPW applies minimal sand as needed while trying to keep heavy equipment off the melting road surface as much as possible. You may need to be patient during the spring until Mother Nature eliminates all of the frost.

If you have questions, please contact the DPW at 248-871-2850. For more details, refer to the Road Commission for Oakland County’s article “RCOC Advises Driver Caution on Gravel Roads” at rcocweb.org/civicalerts.aspx?AID=439.

Press release