Unpaving America: Good For Green?

Ever marvel at how many millions of miles of roads there are in America? After my recent cross country adventure, I can say I am honestly in awe at how much of our country has been paved over. There seems to be no place left in America where paved roads don’t lead, which is great for travelers, and not so great for nature.

Due to the economic crunch though, some counties in America are actually unpaving their roads, and turning them back to gravel. Is it a sign of harsh economic times, or is America overpaved to begin with?

Jack Shafer, writing for Slate, argues that America has been on a “paving binge” for the past few decades, and he makes a pretty good argument. He cites government statistics that say in 1960, America had about 1.23 million miles of paved road and 2.31 million miles of unpaved roads. By 2008, that ratio was reversed, with 2.73 million miles of paved road and 1.32 million miles of unpaved road (I didn’t even know there was that much). That doesn’t take into account all the parking lots and paved driveways either.

It takes a lot of money and resources to maintain that much road, and so many municipalities are letting unused roads fall into disrepair or even converting them into gravel. Easier to maintain, easier to fix. I’m not too concerned that all of the sudden major highways will go unpaved, and I actually think its a good way to save money. I see far too many roads that are hardly used, and it is hard to go anywhere in my home state of Connecticut without hearing a nearby highway. It would be nice to have “smarter” roads that delivered people and goods efficiently, rather than having to be diverted around existing infrastructure.

Schafer’s point for the article though, is that while many pundits are making a big deal about unpaving roads, the fact is very few places are actually doing it… right now. And the roads they are unpaving are barely used anyway. Maybe it is a fad that will catch on? I’d love to see a day where we actually start tearing up old roads and letting them go back to nature. Maybe we could tear down a few interstates while we are at it. Maybe someday we’ll all get flying cars and we’ll have no need for paving at all. I can dream, can’t I?

Source: Slate | Image: Nicole Werner

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.