BRATTLEBORO -- Drivers who want to know how the town's roads are doing during mud season this year can now find out without getting dirty, or leaving a muffler in the muck.
Brattleboro is trying out an interactive, online map that shows the town's roads in color code to let visitors to the town website know up-to-date road conditions.
The site also has a chart that rates the roads from good to fair to poor to closed.
Public Works Director Steve Barrett said the town wanted to try using the website to help drivers stay up to date on the always-changing spring road conditions.
"Some people are unfamiliar with the road conditions this time of year," Barrett said. "We wanted to reach out and let people know what mud season is all about."
Along with letting residents and visitors know about how the roads are to allow them to make other plans if the roads are closed or in poor condition, Barrett says the town wanted to make sure emergency services had access to the most up-to-date information.
"We want to try to avoid the frustration of people getting stuck," he said. "It's a good way to spread the word so people are aware of the conditions."
The Public Works Department sends out a driver every morning to check the conditions of the town's roads, and now that driver will rate the condition and get the information up on the website.
The fire and police department, and an ambulance service, will use a different vehicle if the road is in very poor shape.
On the town's rating system a "good" road is passable by all vehicles, while a road in fair condition could require high clearance or four wheel drive.
The town recommends that only local residents use fair roads and drivers should expect "heavy rutting, washboards and substantial mud."
A road in poor condition means that only four wheel drive vehicles will be able to navigate the mud.
"Expect heavy rutting, slimy and slippery conditions and deep mud," the town's rating system says.
Heavy emergency vehicles may have many difficulties on these roads.
On Sunday, Meadow Brook Street, Sunset Lake Road, Bonnyvale Road and South Street were all in fair condition with surfaces that were rutted but passable.
The map showed that Gibson Road was closed with the rest of the town's roads in "good" condition.
Information will also be updated during the day as the crews work on the roads and conditions shift.
Barrett said he hoped the online information would be used especially by new drivers who are unfamiliar with just how bad the roads get during mud season.
Brattleboro is trying the new system this year.
Barrett said he had not heard of another town having a similar service on its website.
"There was a thought process that went into this," said Barrett. "This is something we do and we thought it would be good to reach out and let the public know. We wanted to expand it and open it up."
Hannah O'Connell, the Highway and Utility Superintendent, said the department is welcoming public input as it works to keep the maps and charts up to date.
"We want to be in better communication with the general public so everybody is well informed of the gravel road conditions," she said.
O'Connell said the town routinely hears from area drivers about road conditions and she said the Public Works Department welcomes calls and observations and crews continue to improve roads and then keep the map and chart up to date.
"We always welcome calls," she said. "We want as many eyes out there as possible."
The town also wants oil companies, trash collectors and other businesses with large delivery vehicles to check the daily road updates.
Some of the worst roads are posted with weight limits at the height of mud season, and as O'Connell said road conditions change throughout the day as the sun warms up the roads.
"The roads are in pretty good condition so we have been able to concentrate on some of the larger problems," O'Connell said. "We always encourage drivers to travel cautiously this time of year and not push their vehicles. We want everyone to be well informed about the road conditions."
So far, said Barrett, the roads have been in pretty good shape.
There's not much snow around to melt and the cold nights and cool days have allowed the roads to thaw slowly.
"It hasn't been too bad, but some people who aren't used to driving in these conditions can get into trouble," Barrett said. "It still could get soggy out there."
A link to the gravel road conditions and map is on the town's web site, to the far right, under "news."
For more information go www.brattleboro.org.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.