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What Is a Bar Ditch?

K.C. Bruning
K.C. Bruning

A bar ditch is a type of channel that extends along both sides of a road. Also known as a barrow pit or bar pit, it is used for drainage. The dirt removed in order to dig the bar ditch may also be added to the adjoining road in order to further elevate it above the area around it. This term is heard most frequently in the southwestern United States of America.

In most cases, a bar ditch is found alongside a gravel or dirt road. The bed can consist of dirt, grass, or wild plants. Some bar ditches have a fairly steep drop, while others are more of a smooth dip. Depending on the depth, they can be a minor inconvenience or a significant problem for a driver who goes off the road.


Traditionally, the bar ditch has been dug by hand. At first, teams of workers used picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows to remove dirt. Later, plows and teams of horses were used to move the earth. Typically the workers who dug the ditches would also lift the dirt to the road bed, where they would rake and smooth the dirt until the surface was adequate for travel. These efforts were meant to improve the condition of roads which had been used for horse-drawn wagons, but were now seeing more automobiles, which needed smoother terrain.

In some areas, property owners near the road were required by the government to participate in digging bar ditches. The owners would have the choice of hiring a crew or managing the work themselves. Some workers created their own teams and contracted with property owners to dig the ditches. Property owners who did not cooperate were assessed higher taxes. This was deemed to be the most effective way to ensure that the roads were properly constructed and available in uninterrupted stretches of sufficient mileage.

Now that most roads are made of cement, the bar ditch is less frequently used. It is most commonly found along roads that are not heavily traveled or which are in rural areas. In addition to gravel and dirt, a bar ditch can now also be found alongside smaller cement roads.

A bar ditch is typically interrupted in several places where another road or a driveway crosses. In order to achieve maximum drainage, it is necessary to tunnel under these stretches of road that cover the ditch. Usually these tunnels are reinforced with culverts made of cement or sturdy metal.

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