How much can a road cost?
March 29, 2009 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever cut a road into a densely wooded area?

This is a somewhat vague question, as I'm not too sure on the details myself. But: there is a parcel of land in Vermont that my family owns. No one has ever built on it, as it is landlocked by other parcels of land. There is an easement over one of the adjoining pieces of land, so we can legally cut in a road--but all anyone says is "it would be too expensive." So how expensive IS it? I don't even know how long a road it would have to be, but let's assume for the purposes of discussion it's between 1/4 and 1/2 mile. Has anyone here ever done it, and what'd it cost you?
posted by Ollie to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I used to live in East Texas, and the way people recovered costs when they had a mature pine forest to clear was make a deal with a logging company -- they get trees at a nice price and you make a small profit. Where you are I guess that depends largely on what kind of trees are in there; you may want to make a few phone calls just to see what they say. That just leaves taking care of stumps and grading a road, and those are tasks that could be largely handled by one person in good shape and a lot of time (cutting costs mostly to construction vehicle rental, a chainsaw for what's left, and gravel). Anyway that's how I'd do it in my part of the country.
posted by crapmatic at 1:03 PM on March 29, 2009

(also if you're going along the easement that does make it dicy with the logging company doing it right, and I'm not sure they'll work in a corridor like that, but I'm just throwing out ideas here until better answers come along)
posted by crapmatic at 1:05 PM on March 29, 2009

Remember, it's one thing to have an easement and another to maintain good relations with your neighbors after you've cut a swath through their property. Too expensive may include the broken relationships that may follow.
posted by Xurando at 1:17 PM on March 29, 2009

Generally, the cost is limited to the rental of a very large bulldozer. (and perhaps a chainsaw, if you want some firewood) That's how I've seen people do it, anyway. What one of the rental places charges for such a thing, I can't say.
posted by wierdo at 2:42 PM on March 29, 2009

North Carolina's Division of Forest resources has The Layman’s Guide to Private Access Road Construction that might be of assistance to you. It doesn't directly address your question regarding price, but it might still be helpful.
posted by RichardP at 2:55 PM on March 29, 2009

A close friend of mine who was a city boy who decided to go country, did this to build on an otherwise land locked wood lot some years ago. In his case, the "road" was only about 800 feet long, but due to the easement, it had to run straight down a steeply sloped hill through the woods.

He got someone to come in and cut the trees in exchange for the lumber. However, they cut them off at a convenient "guy with the saw doesn't want to stress his back" height leaving four to five foot stumps. Then it was a couple of days of dozers and dump trucks from another contractor, and finally the grading contractor.

I don't know what it cost, but I don't think it was a ton of money given what had to be done. This was dense, untouched woodland.

That "road", or more appropriately, "driveway" has been a sea of misery for him almost from the outset. He couldn't afford to have it paved, which actually was good, since paving an 800 foot driveway with a relatively narrow easement straight down that hill would have been money wasted due to the inevitable erosion implications.

It's hard to fight Mother Nature. He wages a constant battle to keep the forest from recouping the driveway, and spends a lot fof time clearing brush and undergrowth.

He has to have several truckloads of stone delivered and graded on the driveway every year. Most of the winter he has to park his vehicles at the top of the driveway because after a handful of trips up and down, it literally becomes a sheet of ice which never sees sunlight due to the surrounding trees.

March and April (here in the Mid-Atlantic area) are his real nightmares, because by that time the driveway is a mix of still frozen ruts, deep muddy ruts, and just plain mud. Melting snow and ice tend to wash most of his annual applications of stone off into the woods.

He drives a 4x4 pickup truck and always keeps a chainsaw on board, since about once every couple of weeks a tree (or part of a tree) falls across the driveway. I don't know the actual width of his easement, but if I were contemplating something like this, I'd want mine to be the width of the road, plus two times the height of the tallest trees on each side of it.

If I were going to run a road or driveway thorugh a heavily wooded area, even if it were not on a slope, I'd want to have it engineered, designed, and built on a level to avoid all of the problems my friend has with his.

I'm guessing that starts with a wide easement and ends with spending a lot more money than my buddy did.

...and if your next MetaFilter question happens to involved building a log home on a heavily wooded lot at the end of a steep 800 foot driveway through the forest, I can probably provide a little second hand insight there as well.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:09 PM on March 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

Last paragraph above should be "involve", not "involved".
posted by imjustsaying at 3:13 PM on March 29, 2009

Mr. Kitcatcut cut some roads when he had his own forestry company in rural Cape Breton. After much calculating and sighing, he says it could easily cost you $25,000 or more. With additional information, he says, he could probably give you a better estimate (email me if you like). There are simply too many factors that have to be taken into consideration (as noted above (maturity of trees, flatness of the land, width of road, brooks and streams to be crossed). After hearing responses above, he also stresses the need for proper gravelling and ditches and culvert pipes for drainage.

He also notes that you will probably need legal documents signed by the neighbours to allow you to access to their land because you can end up damaging their property.
posted by kitcat at 4:08 PM on March 29, 2009

Seconding kitcat. Mrs. BringaYelve wanted a 1/4 mile-long road to our back property and I bought her a New Holland backhoe so she could do it. (Used; good price; still ridiculous.) She's an accomplished tractor-driver and it took her months to do it. Loggers cut and dragged out the trees, then Mrs. B removed the topsoil; once at the subsoil she filled the roadbed with gravel, which required much trucking back and forth from a gravel pit she'd excavated - which only came after building two stone fords over seasonal stream beds. Professionals could do the job much quicker, and that's the way to go if you're not as adept with heavy machinery as Mrs. B.

Please don't rent a chainsaw or a bulldozer if you've never used either before. The Vermont State Police will be on the worksite, in all likelihood, responding to the abutter's complaints or prying your flattened body from under a tree.

You haven't mentioned slopes - there's a lesson in imjustsaying's friend's experience - and, given that the land is in Vermont, odds are it tilts in one direction or another. Slopes are not forgiving of folks from "away," flatlanders as they're refferred to in Vermont. Then there's the matter of wetlands. Gone are the days you can fill them in at will. Here in New Hampshire we had to get the Conservation Commission to do a walk-through before we could begin work.

Why not call the town clerk, find out what permits you'll need, then talk to the local in charge and tell them where your parcel is. They'll be able to give you an idea if building a road is possilbe. Unrestrained laughter will be a clue that it's not.
posted by BringaYelve at 4:53 PM on March 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

You bought your wife a backhoe? Awesome. I'm not sure who's cooler, you or her.
posted by horsemuth at 3:51 AM on March 30, 2009

It's hard to get an estimate without knowing the terrain, type of trees, soil, nearness of contractors/materials, etc. It could be roughly around $40,000 to $50,000 for a bare bones road. You can get a logger to come by and give you an estimate for clearing and grubbing. If the trees are valuable you should get a decent price. Assuming the land is dry without any creeks or need for culverts then the road should be easy to cut with about 10-12" of stone. Building an asphalt driveway could double the price so you probably would want to leave it as crushed stone. To save misery later, you want to get a solid stone base.

"Too expensive" is kind of a weird term and I probably wouldn't consider $50k too expensive if you are building a permanent home. It would be on the high price for a vacation home but even then, I've seen some pretty expensive vacations homes.
posted by JJ86 at 6:40 AM on March 30, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks all. This is something I couldn't do myself, as I'm not handy with tools bigger than a needle and thread. And the problem is complicated by the fact that I'm not exactly sure where the parcel IS--this is something I'll have to sort out with the fam the next time I'm up north, probably with the help of a surveyor.
posted by Ollie at 9:02 AM on March 30, 2009

I just had a road put in on my isolated tract of land in Georgia, so I know how much it costs there.

See: [Eco-Friendly Land Clearing] [Putting in the Driveway] [Completed Driveway]

Total cost was $15,000 for the 800 ft long driveway, including tree clearing/grinding/stump removal, grading, ditches, drain pipe, and two layers of rock (#4 base layer, crush-and-run on top). This is a high-quality gravel road. You can get a "forestry" quality road for much less if you just want to access via a 4x4 truck or ATV.
posted by bengarland at 11:11 AM on March 30, 2009

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