With spring, comes mud season

  • Temple Road Agent Tim Fiske puts down a layer of gravel on Maplewood Drive in Temple, to combat muddy road conditions. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Temple Road Agent Tim Fiske puts down a layer of gravel on Maplewood Drive in Temple, to combat muddy road conditions. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Temple Road Agent Tim Fiske puts down a layer of gravel on Maplewood Drive in Temple, to combat muddy road conditions. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Temple Road Agent Tim Fiske puts down a layer of gravel on Maplewood Drive in Temple, to combat muddy road conditions. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Temple Road Agent Tim Fiske puts down a layer of gravel on Maplewood Drive in Temple, to combat muddy road conditions. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Temple Road Agent Tim Fiske puts down a layer of gravel on Maplewood Drive in Temple, to combat muddy road conditions. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Temple Road Agent Tim Fiske puts down a layer of gravel on Maplewood Drive in Temple, to combat muddy road conditions. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/25/2019 1:34:03 PM

The heavy autumn rains that saturated gravel roads across the region are creating some of the worst mud conditions seen in several years, according to local highway departments.

“I’ve coined this ‘the mother of all mud seasons,’” Mason Road Agent Dave Morrison said.

Mason has about 40 miles of gravel or dirt roads – about half of the town’s roads. That makes it hard to get ahead of the problem, he said.

“It’s Whac-A-Mole,” Morrison said. “You find one spot everyone’s having trouble with, and by the time it’s fixed, there’s another problem spot on the opposite end of town.”

On Thursday in Temple, a thick layer of gravel poured from the Temple Highway Department’s six-wheel dump truck onto the entrance of Maplewood Drive, immediately filling the puddles that have been gathering in wheel tracks dug into the mud.

“You can see what a difference it makes already,” Temple Road Agent Tim Fiske said.

It’s a yearly ritual, as each spring, the frozen ground thaws, snows melt, and the roads turn to mud.

This year is not the worst mud season Fiske has seen, but it is worse than usual, he said, mainly because of a last fall and winter’s rainfall.

“We had a record amount of rain last fall and winter. The roads soaked that water up, hung onto it, and it froze. The frost went as deep as it ever goes, and now, it’s starting to come out and turn those roads to soup.”

Fiske said towns will continue to see muddy conditions for several weeks, as the deep frost thaws.

“When we have these real nice warm days, the gravel roads can’t take it. They almost explode into mud,” Fiske said.

Morrison said the spring thaw occurred on March 15, but because the weather has fluctuated so much this winter the most recent (and likely final) thaw was the fourth this year. Each thaw, he said, created problems with the dirt roads getting muddy. But often, he said, the ground would re-freeze, as early as the next day, leaving ruts that then collect water and the cycle only worsens the problem.

“Everything aggravates the issue,” Morrison said.

Hancock has about 50 percent gravel or dirt roads. Brett Martin, Hancock highway foreman, says the highway department anticipates a bad mud season and has been treating its roads with a blended sand and stone mixture.

Fiske said treating with stone and gravel doesn’t always completely solve the mud issue, but long-term fixes are generally too expensive.

One load of gravel, which is enough to cover about 30-40 feet of dirt road, is about $100, Fiske said. It would cost about $10,000 to put down gravel on three-fourths of a mile of road.

“And everyone around here has miles and miles of dirt road,” Fiske said. “So you have to try to pick the worst spots.”

Sometimes, the problem can be fixed by putting in additional drainage, Fiske said, but for the most part, highway department’s are fighting an uphill battle against roads without a solid base of gravel.

Rebuilding the roads with a better base would likely reduce the mud problems, Fiske said, but that is a significantly more expensive proposition – a cost of approximately $1 million per mile.

Reducing traffic while the roads are still soft is one way to reduce the damage. Many towns place a six-ton weight limit on their roads during the spring thaw, with exceptions for critical functions such as fuel trucks and school buses.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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