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Spring thaws bring driveway flaws

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The spring thaw brings an end to icy roads each year. But for some people, driving woes are closer to home in spring than they ever were in winter.

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After the cold weather recedes, homeowners with concrete or tar driveways may need to deal with potholes and cracks from freezing and thawing cycles. Those with dirt or gravel driveways might face the threat of becoming marooned in their garage until water from the spring thaw dries up.

Moisture, driveway layout, plowing practices and driveway materials are the culprit. If your driveway is flanked by raised ground, composed of moisture-retaining soil or is full low spots, it could likely use some work.

If your driveway looks like an impassable mud hole each spring, Charlie Swenson, owner of Pine River’s Swenson’s Aggregate and Construction, is one person who knows how to fix the problem. Swenson’s has been fixing driveways and selling aggregate since 1998.

“The biggest cause of driveway washouts would be hard rains. Most of the time, you get the big washouts from the hard, driving rains, or else, if you don’t have the snow pushed off the driveway in the wintertime and the snow runs onto the driveway, it can wash out a driveway, too. If you have a lot of snow and it melts fast, then you can have washouts,” Swenson said.

First, Swenson recommends not driving through a muddy driveway.

“If they have a bad, rutted driveway I would try to stay off of it. If you put ruts in it, the ruts hold water. The longer the water stays there, the longer your driveway is going to have troubles. If you can stay off it for a few days and not put ruts in it, it’s going to heal up some,” Swenson said.

This is only a temporary solution. A more permanent solution for water in your driveway is aggregate, which can provide a solid driving surface that doesn’t retain moisture.

“Some kind of rock, crushed concrete or crushed asphalt helps that. It helps bind up and makes the surface harder,” Swenson said. ”We put down a lot of Class 1, and it is high in binder, but we have a high extent of rock in ours, too, so it gets hard and stays firm and the rock helps everything stay hard. It doesn’t get soft in the spring.”

Swenson recommends crushed concrete for many driveways because of its binders and drainage, but for sloped driveways, his go-to material is crushed asphalt.

“If they have a pretty good slope in the driveway, then we recommend crushed asphalt, because crushed asphalt binds together better than any other product,” Swenson said.

For those who want to do their own work, Swenson said the first step is to prevent pooling through proper plowing.

“You should have your snow pushed back clear of the driveway. It’s tough to do in the winter like we’ve had because most people only have so much area to push the snow back. As you push the snow back, it starts to build up more and more and more. It gets taller and taller,” he said.

Snow removal may be necessary.

Maintaining a properly graded driveway is the next step.

“Proper grading on a gravel driveway needs a proper crown. Dragging your driveway with a bedspring or a drag will help loosen up the ground some and aerate it and help it dry faster,” Swenson said.

By crown, Swenson means that the driveway should have a high spot in the middle, with a slope to either side so water runs off as it melts or falls instead of pooling. Water should be able to run away from the driveway in lower spots on either side, sometimes into road ditches.

If your driveway is surrounded by higher ground, this can sometimes be difficult to achieve. In this case, maintain a solid crown, and drive in the center so long as it is solid. Don’t let snow or debris slow down drainage on either side.

Grading is also good for removing ruts that hold water and make the problem worse,

Swenson said.

“They can do it any time so long as it isn’t real muddy. If it is somewhat wet, they can do it and that will help dry it,” he said.

For driveways surrounded by low ground, grading each year might prevent a muddy mess by itself. If not, aggregate is the key. It should be laid down after grading the driveway.

“The concrete usually runs about $12-$18 a yard. It just depends on where you are at,” Swenson said.

Most driveway jobs can be done within a few hours. For do-it-yourselfers, the job might take a little longer. Like shoveling snow, aggregate can be heavy, so know your body’s limits and don’t hurt yourself.

Travis Grimler can be reached at travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him at facebook.com/PEJTravis and on Twitter @PEJ_Travis.

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