Unpaved roads are useful and low-cost, so they serve county road departments’ major budget-related needs. However, unpaved roads come with certain issues to think about before construction. 

Unpaved road problems include erosion, washboarding, potholes, dust, and mud. Taking care of these problems eats away at a township’s budget because of labor and maintenance costs.

Seeing how these problems can affect their community and budget, township supervisors and county commissioners need effective solutions that won’t break the bank. Fortunately, you can save money without cutting corners simply by planning ahead and stabilizing soil during construction. 

Planning Ahead

Although it’s rare to build a brand-new county road, counties may build new roads for reasons like: 

  • New manufacturing facility coming to the county 
  • Developer converting farmland into a new neighborhood
  • Community need for more direct routes to the interstates 

Some county road departments also consider resurfacing or improving an existing road as “building” a road. This type of road building often happens as a result of increased traffic, damage to the existing road, or requests from residents. 

Let’s discuss the setbacks that can happen when planning both new and existing county road improvements and how to address them.

Short Timelines

When counties build new unpaved roads, they often either have an immediate or near-future need. They must make decisions quickly, so they may not weigh all their options thoroughly.

However, rushed plans put you at risk to encounter more problems during construction. It’s wisest to spend more time planning upfront. Then you can spot potential issues and determine how to prevent or address them before you start building. Here are some things to consider:

  • Current and projected road usage
  • Lane width
  • Sight distance and speed limits
  • Slope and water drainage
  • Contractor cost and experience
  • Climate and topography
  • Permits and approvals
  • Project timeline (including approvals, community input, and construction)

If your county road department is self-performing, take the time to research material costs from multiple vendors, and ask them questions. Remember to factor your own county road department’s time and labor into the equation, too. And finally, collect input from trustworthy people—including neighboring counties with similar roads and people who have done similar projects before. 

It sounds counterintuitive to spend more time planning, but these conversations unearth potential problems so you can either prevent them or plan around them. That makes the building process faster because you don’t have to delay the project for many unforeseen problems. It’s also cheaper because you don’t have to pay crews for expensive rework.

Community Concerns

Sometimes, county road departments make the best plans for a road, but community members object. That’s frustrating for commissioners, but your job is to represent their interests. These roads are for them! 

To help ease community concerns, communicate with residents openly throughout the planning phase. Explain the pros and cons of the new road clearly, and collect plenty of community input. It’s even better if you communicate more often and more transparently than the law requires. 

Realistically, some people will still object. You may have to choose a less desirable route that takes longer or has other issues—adding to the construction timeline and expenses. But overall, you’ll win more support if community members feel heard and if you help them understand why one option is genuinely best for them and the county’s budget.

Minimizing Surveys and Soil Tests

It’s tempting to do the bare minimum soil testing and surveying. After all, these services are expensive. It’s cheaper to let your contractor make educated decisions based on their experience with various soils and road construction projects. Besides, most people think unpaved roads need less structural support than paved roads.

However, that’s shortsighted. The truth is, it’s impossible to tell the composition of soil without proper lab testing. And when you don’t know what the soil’s made of, you also won’t know other properties that could impact construction—like how much it’ll expand when wet. Over time, roads built on untested soil are more likely to develop severe potholes, erode, or worse.

It’s smarter (and cheaper) to pay for adequate testing and plan accordingly than to repeatedly fix a poorly designed road. 

Get a free sieve analysis and Perma-Zyme compatibility soil evaluation from the experts at Substrata.

Stabilize Soil 

Many county roads develop maintenance problems that get expensive over time. However, you can minimize these issues by constructing new roads or reinforcing existing roads to last long-term. 

The most effective way is by strengthening native soil. Unpaved roads are made from soil that’s relatively soft. That’s why unpaved roads develop more maintenance issues sooner than paved roads. Type II aggregate subbase for a paved road is about 15 times stronger than a native soil base for an unpaved road. 

Soil stabilizers strengthen native soil so low-cost, unpaved county roads last for years. In fact, some soil stabilizers make native soil as strong or stronger than Type II aggregate.  

Types of Soil Stabilizers

Traditional soil stabilizers include cement, lime, and polymers. These substances harden, thereby strengthening the soil. These methods are all highly effective. 

However, they have some issues. Cement is brittle and prone to cracking. Lime throws off the soil’s pH balance—which can be bad for the environment—and lime dust is harmful for road crews to breathe. Finally, polymers break down over time, and some aren’t eco-friendly. 

Another solution is treating your unpaved road with Perma-Zyme. It’s enzyme-based, non-toxic, and environmentally friendly. It strengthens native soil over 13 times. One application can keep your road solid for 10 years or more with little to no maintenance. 

Perma-Zyme works by bonding the clay in the soil together to create a concrete-like surface. This same bonding process also reduces dust and prevents other problems like washboarding, erosion, and mud.

Using Perma-Zyme in Atlas Township, Michigan

The story of Atlas Township, Michigan, highlights how soil stabilization improves roads and communities. 

Atlas Township set out to stabilize a low-cost county road called Walker Road. This unpaved road had two very low, swampy areas. These areas would develop giant frost boils around February and March. The frost boils were so severe residents who lived nearby parked their cars in another location and walked home.

Like most unpaved roads, Walker Road became muddy and difficult to drive through after rainfall, so it needed a lot of grading shortly afterward.

After learning about Perma-Zyme at a township supervisor’s conference, the Genesee County Road Commission—which oversees Atlas Township—decided to apply Perma-Zyme to Walker Road. They notified residents about the treatment.

A few days after the treatment, the residents of Atlas, Michigan, were happy with the results. The township surveyed the road, and Genesee County Road Commission Vice Chairperson Shirley Kautman Jones says they considered the project a "huge success." Since the Perma-Zyme application, the road no longer has frost boils and doesn’t need the regular maintenance it needed before. Also, there’s much less dust now. 

The reconstruction of Walker Road has been so successful that the Genesee County Road Commission has used Perma-Zyme on over 10 roads. 

See how Walker Road held up seven years after its Perma-Zyme treatment. 

New Construction vs. Pre-Existing Roads

Walker Road wasn’t a new construction; Atlas Township wanted to decrease maintenance on an existing road. However, you’ll get the same results applying Perma-Zyme to a new construction as to an existing road. That’s because in both cases, you must apply Perma-Zyme thoroughly to loose soil (more on that shortly).

Applying Perma-Zyme to existing roads also saves time and money on maintenance—which you can then spend building new roads.

So even though Walker Road was pre-existing, it’s still a prime example of how Perma-Zyme stabilizes soil when building new low-cost, unpaved county roads.

Applying Perma-Zyme

Applying Perma-Zyme requires a few pieces of equipment: 

  • Water truck
  • Motor grader with ripper attachment
  • Sheepsfoot or padfoot compactor
  • Smooth wheel roller

The first step in the application process is using a motor grader to rip the soil. 

The depth that you should rip into the soil depends on the traffic you’re expecting the road to see. If the road gets normal traffic from four-wheeled cars and trucks, rip the soil to a depth of 6 inches. But if the road sees heavy traffic from vehicles like 18-wheelers, the depth should be 12 inches. 

Then using a water truck, spray water mixed with Perma-Zyme evenly across the road to get the soil to optimum moisture. You’ll need three pails of Perma-Zyme to treat one mile of two-lane, unpaved county road to a depth of six inches. 

When the soil is at optimum moisture, compact it with the sheepsfoot or padfoot compactor on its high vibratory setting. This creates aggressive compaction, forcing the clay particles close together to bond them. Finish compacting with the smooth wheel roller for extra compaction and to smooth the road out. 

After compaction, the road is ready for light traffic after 24 hours. For heavier traffic, wait at least 72 hours to allow the Perma-Zyme time to cure. 

It’s important to have at least 3 days without rain after construction, as rain affects the compaction and curing. The temperature should also be above 40 degrees Fahrenheit because the enzymes in Perma-Zyme work slower in cold weather.


If you’re looking to build a strong, low-cost county road, spend adequate time planning ahead to prevent issues during construction. And be sure to choose a long-lasting soil stabilizer that works for your location and budget.

Soil stabilizers include cement, lime, polymers, and Perma-Zyme. Perma-Zyme is a great option that entities like the Genesee County Road Commission have used successfully. But don’t just take our word for it. 

See for yourself with these incredible county road transformations. 

P.S. Want to Learn More? 

Download our free whitepaper, How Perma-Zyme Works. It’ll teach you what Perma-Zyme is, how enzymes bond soil together, and how it lasts so long.  

Download How Perma-Zyme Works 

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