Imagine a motorcycle. Not one of the fun little sport bikes you see weaving through traffic, or the luxurious cruisers for bikers who’ve put the hard riding behind them, but a monolithic machine that’s too big to comfortably control. The rider isn’t struggling to tame the beast – the rider is free of everything but the beast and the road. All the rider needs to do is stay on. An engine that’s almost too powerful drives a chrome steed far too quickly down a desolate stretch of desert road.
Quick – what does the road look like?
If you’ve seen Easy Rider* then hopefully you imagined a two-lane blacktop with fading yellow stripes. The air boiling above the road, under the blazing sun so bright you can almost smell the tar as the asphalt paving flows past. Now think – when was the last time you drove on a blacktop road for more than a mile? Have you ever wondered what happened to all those miles of classic Americana? A little google-centric research indicates many potential reasons, but gives no one distinct cause.
Concrete: The Closest Thing to a Distinct Cause for the Absence of Asphalt Roads
When you start looking to prepare a surface for vehicles, you have three major options to choose from, reviewed succinctly below.
Gravel Paths - You can forego paving all together – save a lot of money by simply using tons gravel to make a bumpy load bearing path. However, those rocks are little like glitter and a little like bored children – they get into everything, and cleaning them up is a Sisyphean task. Considering rocks’ propensity for breaking windows, and tires’ propensity for flinging rocks, gravel roads are a whole lot more like bored children than they are like glitter. I would only recommend this if you need so much roadway that asphalt paving is prohibitively expensive, and even then, I would ensure high-traffic areas were asphalt or concrete.
Asphalt – Asphalt road surfaces were the gold standard in highway technology for a while. Lasting up to 20 years, asphalt has numerous advantages for the individual, especially if they have a mind to do all their own maintenance. A more forgiving and less rigid material, asphalt is tolerant of seasonal thermal expansion that would leave a concrete slab cracked into pieces. Installation is limited by cold weather – if it’s too cold, the paving mixture will not compact correctly. Asphalt paving in Austin, TX is almost never delayed by cold weather, but asphalt paving in Denver, CO would be impossible five months out of the year. Once installed, and with regular maintenance by yourself or an asphalt maintenance company, an asphalt drive or roadway should last approx. 20 years.
Concrete – The modern juggernaut in the roadway surface game, concrete is the backbone of the interstate highway system. This is anecdotal evidence, and might be a psychosomatic delusion, but concrete road surface is louder and rougher to travel on than asphalt, although it’s miles better than a gravel path. However, concrete require less frequent repair than asphalt, and lasts approximately 10 years longer. Considering the economic impact of constantly closing roads to repair or replace them. An asphalt maintenance company can patch the road more quickly than a concrete maintenance company can patch a concrete roadway, but the state will still spend more money on upkeep and replacement for asphalt roads due to scale. Factor in the fact that for five months out of the year, our hypothetical asphalt paving in Denver, CO, would be impossible. As soon as November hit, every pothole would become a fixture until spring, getting worse and unfixable. Asphalt paving in Austin, TX , seems mercifully warm, when you compare hypothetical scenarios.
Now you know about three kinds of roads! Go forth and do good in the world.
If you haven’t seen Easy Rider, but are interested enough in roads to be reading this article, go watch Easy Rider. It’s a motorcycle movie from 1969, and if I know my audience at all, most everyone has already stopped reading in favor of finding out where to watch that movie. Except for you, diligent reader of footnotes. You are not forgotten.