Unpaving roads

I’ve previously joked that disintegrating roads contribute to the popularity of adventure bikes. Governments can’t afford to maintain our public roads, resulting in challenging rock gardens for cyclists and recurring front-end repair bills for the motoring public.

On this 100th Anniversary of the first Federal funding law for public roads, WIRED Magazine looks at the state capital of Vermont, which unpaved the half-mile long portion of Bliss Road in 2009 for roughly 20% of the cost of repaving this deteriorating road.

Montpelier VT Satellite View

Bliss Road is highlighted at the far right of this map, while the town proper is located at the far left. The five large-lot homes located within city limits on Bliss Road contribute about $20,000 in property taxes to the city budget each year. Although a homeowner trying to sell his home was apparently the impetus for the unpaving project, Bliss Road serves more than these residents living on the edge of town. People traveling from other nearby cities such as East Montpelier use Bliss (and nearby Murray Road) as cut-throughs to bypass heavy traffic on Towne Hill Road. Students also use Bliss Road to travel to and from the regional U32 Middle & High School. Still, it illustrates the subsidy required for those who choose to live on the outskirts of town.

Unpaving projects are suitable for low-traffic roads on flat terrain. I live and bike in Santa Cruz County, which has many low-traffic roads, but they’re in mountainous terrain. The result can be teeth-chattering descents on broken pavement. We also have numerous “slipouts” — places where a portion of road “slipped out” and slid down the side of the mountain after a heavy rainstorm. The county can’t afford to repair this damage, so they put up a “one lane road” sign as a temporary fix. It’s … interesting to see a 20 foot chunk of asphalt several yards below as you cycle along the edge of the abyss. You can see an incomplete list of these slipouts under the “On-Going Traffic Advisory” section at the Santa Cruz County Public Works Road Closure web page.

H/T to Carson Blume, who also makes the observation about gravel bikes and bad roads.


  1. On a recent bike trip to Colusa County, I found several back roads (Leesville Road, Leesville – Lodoga Road) that in Google Streetview are shown as crumbling pavement had been converted to fine crushed gravel, easily rideable on a road bike.

  2. I think I prefer a packed, unpaved surface like that over bumpy pavement. I imagine similar to the packed sand-like material used on some bike trails?

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