Mud season: It's bad out there

Rocks are piled on top of the mud to make dirt roads easier to travel. A road is something that is used hard in Vermont, the author writes, often neglected and rarely updated.

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One of the books in the famous Harry Bosch series by Michael Connolly is “The Narrows.” Some may be familiar with the Amazon Prime series Bosch. Same guy. Connolly is also renowned for writing The Lincoln Lawyer. Well, this has nothing to do with that. It is about roads.

It is about a lot of roads in Vermont. As we find ourselves in a completely different state since COVID-19 broke, there are quite a few roads in the Green Mountain State that are suddenly inadequate. So many new folks have moved to Vermont. I hear tell that more are on the way. To them, some of our roads are either quaint or just plain outdated. A road is something that is used hard here in Vermont, often neglected and rarely updated. Why is that? Money, for one thing.

When you have frost and freeze cycles, it raises hell on road surfaces. Lots of Vermont roads heave, the surface cracks, water gets in, freezes, expands, cracks more, and then you have a road that is a disaster. Suddenly your thirty-six thousand dollar SUV or your sixty thousand dollar pickup truck is having its’ suspension beaten into scrap metal by some of our horrific roads. You have to step back and tell yourself that this is Vermont! What on earth did you expect! Our weather is wicked hard on anything exposed to it. Watch weather radar. Ever notice how ALL of the country’s weather gets funneled over us constantly? We are in a unique area that is infamous for harsh weather. None of us can say much because we chose this. Yes, I not only chose it but prefer being here. But the roads!

If you look into how many miles most Vermont towns must maintain, the numbers add up fast. Maintaining hundreds of miles of road in a small town is a disproportionate financial burden. Yes, it’s a crazy amount of money to pay employees, buy and maintain equipment, and purchase materials like gravel, guard rails, striping paint, asphalt, road salt, sand, and who knows what else. Additionally, do you think the folks fixing and maintaining our roads get shown much appreciation? They aren’t appreciated nearly enough for all that they do.

We may question why is this road or that road a complete mess? Well, they just have not gotten around to that one due to scheduling, time, and money. If we think for one minute that our town officials are not aware of their town’s road conditions, we are sadly delusional. Those folks think about it too much. Worry about it. Stress over it. That is only the baseline; what about road washouts and other natural disasters like trees falling in the road? All those items must be cleaned up and disposed of, and bridges need rebuilding. Repairs are endless.

So this afternoon I drove over a shortcut road in Rockingham called The Narrows. It connects route 103 with the Pleasant Valley road. There are just two homes on it, located at the opposite ends. It is called the Narrows for a reason. On the route 103 end, there is a short hill that is narrowed to one lane. The reason is that there is some ledge on either side. I have never used that road without worrying about what would happen if I met someone in the middle of the narrow section. It happened today. I was nearly up and over that section when I met another car. They kindly backed up enough to let me through. I could have cursed the town for allowing that road to remain one lane for a short section, but I didn’t. I started adding up what it might cost to blast out the ledge on either side to widen it. Blasting would be expensive, disruptive, and somewhat dangerous. Because it was lightly used over the years, it has not demanded attention or expenditure. Now it lends character to the terrain. It is a lovely road, but what would happen if it were developed, with seven or eight new homes built on it? You never know, it may happen. Ultimately the work would have to be done. Maybe, for now, they could put signs up that warn of a single lane ahead.

So it goes for the rest of our roads. Until the traffic demands it and the tax base can afford it, not a lot will change. We rather like it the way it is because we locals have adapted and accepted, as long as no new pressures are put on it like increased traffic. The way things are going, that may happen. We all need to understand how this works in the case of our own towns’ roads like the Narrows. When conditions are right, your town will see to it.

The Morning Almanac with Arlo Mudgett is heard Monday through Saturday mornings on radio stations Oldies KOOL FM 106.7, 96.3, and 106.5 and over Peak-FM 101.9 and 100.7.