Cottage Q&A: Dust control on a gravel road

An empty country gravel road

Do you have any suggestions for dust control on a gravel road?—Phyllis Allen, via email

We assume this road is a private road, since generally, dust control on a municipal road would be the responsibility of your township. We also assume that you’ve posted signs asking drivers to curb their speed, since that’ll help reduce the dust. (If drivers are using this road when they shouldn’t be, you have every right to post “No Trespassing” signs.)

But back to the dust. “The accepted method for dust control is calcium chloride,” says Don Mackenzie, a technical consultant for Hutcheson Sand & Mixes in Huntsville, Ont. “It binds to the finer aggregate particles in gravel, which are the ones that cause the dustiness.” 

It’s possible to hire small trucks from companies that distribute calcium chloride to apply it to your road in liquid form. It’s worth it, says Jeff Waldon, the roads supervisor for the Township of North Kawartha. “It really is a great product.” A once-a-year treatment may be enough. (You can also buy bags of flaked calcium chloride to apply yourself, ideally with something like a fertilizer sprayer, but the dust-suppressing effect won’t last as long.)

But here’s the thing: most gravel roads need other forms of TLC, grading, for example, to keep the gravel in place and to prevent potholes. This is why some groups, such as the cottagers on Malachi Lake, Ont., pay a company to do regular maintenance. As part of that, the company applies magnesium chloride (it works similarly to calcium chloride). Six kilometres of road was treated five or six years ago, says Al Campbell, the lake association’s road manager. “And the treatment is still working.” Unfortunately, it was expensive, he admits—about $12,000 to $13,000.

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Way cheaper? Water. But it’s not practical, says Waldon. You’d need a water truck, and “you’d be constantly watering. Watering and watering.” 

There’s got to be a better way! The Kenogamissi Hydro Road Committee, which maintains a portion of the road into Kenogamissi Lake, near Timmins, Ont., is investigating using RAP—reclaimed asphalt paving, a.k.a. recycled asphalt—as a coating substitute for “A” gravel (the layer of fine material that usually tops a gravel road). A side benefit? It controls dust. The group sources the RAP from a local paving company. “It’s basically the ground-up asphalt that comes up during a ‘shave and pave,’ ” says Brian Jones, a committee member. Chunks of old asphalt are milled into a grainy mix of aggregate and asphalt cement and compressed. 

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The Kenogamissi crew has only used RAP on a test portion of the road, but so far, Jones has been pleased with the results. The material cost is similar to that of gravel, rainfall hasn’t washed it away, and it has stood up to Jones’s steel-toed boots when he attempted to forcibly dislodge the millings. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all fix for a dusty road. And the only truly free solution—no money, no time—would be to let the road fall into an undriveable state. “Leave lots of potholes and lots of washboarding, and people will slow down or avoid the road altogether,” says Don Mackenzie. You wouldn’t have much dust. You’d just have all kinds of other road problems.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

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