All About Roads & Driveways – Part 1

September 17, 2013 — Leave a comment
This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series All About Roads & Driveways

When you’re looking at property, access is one of the most critical elements that must be considered. The Ant Farm is located off of a chip & tar road maintained by the county, which is a very good thing. Unfortunately, the only access to the interior of the property was via an old timber road that hadn’t been maintained in years. After a cursory review of the property, we knew that we wanted our home site to be located deep on the property, which would require a significant investment in road construction. As a result, we had to consider the costs associated with adding a driveway when we determined a reasonable offer price.

There are basically four different aspects of road building that you’ll need to give some thought. Each one will require research in order to fully understand the repercussions of your decisions. While your excavator should provide a lot of expertise, no one is more interested in the success of your project than you are. Invest yourself in learning more about these issues, and your chances for success will multiply exponentially:

Planning the Path

Before the bulldozers can get started, you’ll need to have a good idea of where the road is going to start and end. Once you determine these two things, you can begin to consider a path that meets your requirements.

Access to the Main Road

In some areas there are laws that govern how driveways join the main road. These laws typically dictate the angle that the driveway enters the traffic pattern and sight-line clearances to the main road. Any good excavator will know what laws apply and will advise you accordingly. Be sure to consider how the neighboring driveways will affect yours, and how easy it will be to get in and out. If your property is lower or higher than the main road, you’ll need to consider how the driveway will transition from the road so you don’t drag the back end of your car as you enter or exit your property. If you’ll be driving larger vehicles or towing trailers, be sure that the clearances will be adequate.

Driveway transition from main road

Our property falls away from the road, and I had real concerns about the transition. We own an RV, so we knew that we wanted the access to the main road to accommodate easy entry. It took several loads of chert to build up the entrance, but the final driveway provides a seamless transition from the county road.

Curves & Contour

When you’re determining the path of your driveway, you’ll need to consider the basic contour of your land. Steep slopes can sometimes be avoided by following parallel to the contour of the hills. Sometimes it’s best to just go up and over smaller inclines. The cheapest solution will usually involve the least amount of rise and fall in the road path. Steeper grades will create issues with gravel washing away and erosion that can leave deep ruts.


We originally wanted our driveway to incorporate several s-curves for privacy. However, once we got into the process, the additional costs became apparent. The curves added significantly to the length of the road, which increased the price. Also, the curves complicated issues related to our utilities, which is discussed in more detail below. While a meandering driveway would have provided more beauty to our property, we simply couldn’t justify the additional cost. In the end, we opted for a very gentle curve at the end of the driveway near the house.

Clearing Brush & Trees

With the powerful machines that excavators use, the issue of clearing land is much simpler than it probably appears. However, you’ll need to be aware of trees and unmovable landmarks that may lie in the path. It takes time to knock down trees, and time is money. If you can plot a path that weaves in and around trees without adding too much distance to the road bed, it may be worth considering. However, if you are planning for overhead power lines, this issue could become more complicated.

Roark on a Brush Pile

It’s also worth noting that all the brush, limbs and trunks have to go somewhere. In most cases these are piled and later burned after they’ve had a chance to dry out a little. Your excavator will want to know where you want the brush piles. For the record, these piles can be HUGE. When it comes time to burn them, you’ll need to contact the local forestry commission to determine what steps are involved to burn brush. In some areas you’ll need a permit. In unincorporated St. Clair County if the burn area is smaller than 1/4 acre, all we need to do is touch base with the police or fire department, so they don’t unnecessarily come running out to save the day! Just another reason to love being out in the country.

Brush Pile "Where's Waldo"

Brush Pile “Where’s Waldo?”

Our biggest brush pile is pretty close to being dry enough to attempt a burn, however, we’re waiting until the water service is in later this week before we proceed. Of course, I’ll post about it when the time comes.

Brush Pile "Where's Waldo"

Where’s Weirdo?

Utilities & Power

Up front you’ll have to determine if you’re going to run power overhead or underground. This can be a very frustrating process. For Alabama Power, we were required to provide a 15ft. radius around all poles and wires. This radius must be maintained in the vertical plane, which means that tree limbs have to be clear all the way to the sky. In essence, the power company wants a 30ft. wide swath they can run their lines down.

Our excavator recommended that we have the lines zig-zag across the road so that the road itself could be used as part of the right-of-way. They would then clear a 15ft. radius circle around the pole locations, and that would provide the least disturbance to the property. I’m not sure it really worked out that way. By the time the power company was satisfied, you could literally land a small aircraft on our driveway. LITERALLY!

If we had it to do over again, I would probably consider running the power down one side of the road, though I’m not convinced it would be much of an improvement. For now, we’ve lost a ton of the beauty of trees arching gently over our drive. A lot of it will grow back in, but the power company maintains the right-of-way. I’m sure it’s inevitable that one day Asplundh will drive their ugly orange trucks up and proceed to massacre the forest the way they do all over Alabama. Just one more reason to hate the power company I guess…

In Part 2 we’ll cover the remaining three things to consider when installing a driveway in rural St. Clair County, Alabama.




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