Road crews tackle mud season

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ROCKINGHAM — Mud season, Vermont's unpredictable fifth season and harbinger of spring, is in full swing.

So much so that the town of Rockingham took the unusual step of closing all 30 miles of its gravel roads to thru traffic this weekend because the conditions were so bad. Everett Hammond, Rockingham's public works director, and Mike Hindes, the Rockingham highway foreman, said Monday it was the worst mud season for the town's roads in decades."It's the worst we've seen," said Hammond.

He said residents of the dirt roads were able to use the roads, but the town wanted people who didn't live on the roads to stay off and find another route during the season between winter and spring. "Stay off of it if you don't live there, that's the short and sweet of it," said Hindes. "We need to keep the traffic down."

Hindes said his long-time grader operator, Mike Furgat, said it was the worst he had seen it, and Furgat has been working for the town for 40 years. Hammond said town road crews were out all weekend, doing the best they could with the muddy, slimy roads, a view that was echoed by highway crews all over Windham County on Monday.

Most town managers or road foremen just laughed when asked about mud season. Russell Hodgkins, Westminster town manager, also said it was one of the worst mud seasons he had seen. He said all of Westminster's roads, both paved and gravel, were posted to try and keep heavy equipment off the soft roads and prevent more damage.

Hodgkins said the Westminster crew had been working split shifts since last week to try and keep the roads passable.

In Brattleboro, Steve Barrett, the town's public works director, said the town crew had started its seasonal gravel roads report, which gives an update on all the major gravel roads. Barrett said the town had only closed one road, Gibson Road, to traffic. It's a linking road between East Orchard Street and Meadowbrook Road.

Each morning, someone goes out on each of the dirt roads and evaluates them, Barrett said. There's four categories: good, fair, poor and closed.

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He said a road in poor condition means only a vehicle with high clearance and four wheel drive would be able to travel the "heavy rutting, slimy and slippery conditions and deep mud," according to the town's website.

He said road conditions can change during the course of a day. But as of Monday morning, there was one road in poor condition, Mather Road, and the town was planning on adding gravel later in the day. only two roads were in fair condition, Ames Hill Road and Barrows Road, both in West Brattleboro. Gibson Road was the only road listed as closed.

Roads all over Vermont routinely post both paved and unpaved roads in March until the frost is out of the ground and drainage has returned to normal. Barrett said Brattleboro's roads had a weight limit of 24,000 pounds.

In Newfane, road foreman Jay Wilson said Newfane's dirt roads were in OK shape, and he called the mud season as "typical."

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People have enjoyed relatively mild mud seasons in the past couple of years, he said.

"Our crew worked through the weekend trying to keep them open," he said. "It's a normal spring."

He said this year's long and cold winter had driven the frost deep into the ground, which usually means a long mud season.

"We haven't closed any roads," he said. Newfane has a total of 65 miles of roads, and 40 of those are gravel.

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Rockingham has 45 miles of paved road and 30 miles of dirt roads, but Hindes said the dirt roads in the worst shape were Darby Hill Road, Rockingham Hill Road and Paradise Hill Road. Both Hammond and Hindes said the weather of the past couple of days had brought some relief from Friday's soupy mess, when temperatures were in the 50s, and roads turned to a quagmire.

In Westminster, Hodgkins said heavy trucks and equipment are banned from the roads for the time being. State law allows both milk trucks and the delivery of fuel oil, despite the posting of roads.

He said the warm weather at the end of last week had created the soupy conditions. "It came so quickly," he said. "Yeah, it's bad."

Westminster's roads are divided almost equally between pavement and gravel, he said, with 45 of the 88 miles still in gravel.

He said he gave permission Monday morning, while the road was frozen, to an excavator to come in on one of the closed roads. Getting it out, he said, will depend on the weather. Westminster posts its roads for loads ranging from 6,000 to 18,000 pounds, he said.

Hammond said he expected roads would improve during the week, enough so that the rain and snow that is predicted for the weekend won't have a big impact.

"We're working to get the moisture to evaporate. We're trying to get rid of the moisture," he said."I think by next week, things will be better," he said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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