Quick thaw leads to bad mud season for local roads

  • Mud season in Temple. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Upper Pratt Pond Road in New Ipswich has deep ruts after a bad mud season this year. Courtesy photos—

  • Upper Pratt Pond Road in New Ipswich has deep ruts after a bad mud season this year. Courtesy photos—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/29/2021 4:24:17 PM

The mud has been scraping the undercarriage of Dwayne White’s truck this month, as he makes his way up and down Upper Pratt Pond Road in New Ipswich.

Mud season, White said philosophically, is a fact of life in New England, and it comes with the package when you purchase a property on a dirt road. But this year, he said, has been particularly bad.

“This year has just been worse than usual,” White said. “Worse than it’s been in at least 10 years.”

White, who has lived on Upper Pratt Pond Road since 1987, said he and a neighbor had to spend last weekend hauling six or seven loads of stone – at an expense of upwards of $600 – onto the private portion of the road, in an attempt to shore up the road and make it passable, after it got so bad that there were some neighbors who weren’t able to drive the entire length of the road, and were having to find places to park along the road and walk the rest of the way home.

What is colloquially known as “mud season” is a perennial problem for road crews in the state, and occurs at the start of spring, when the often still-frozen ground can’t cope with the sudden onrush of water from melting snows, resulting in gravel and dirt roads becoming mires and towns putting up weight advisories on even paved roads to prevent damage while the ground thaws and is soft beneath the pavement.

Todd Croteau, Superintendent of Highway and Facilities for Jaffrey, said his crews have been attempting to battle the mud season on Jaffrey’s 20 miles of gravel roads since the beginning of March, and the fight plods on as April approaches. Jaffrey’s Gilson Road and Thorndike Pond Road have been problem areas that the Highway Department has been trying to stabilize by bringing in additional crushed stone.

But dealing with muddy roads is a bit of a “double-edged sword,” Croteau said.

“This year’s frost was deep, and we had a significant warm up, first thing. It’s a bad year,” Croteau said.

But, he said, in his career working on various highway departments, he’s noticed there seems to be an increasing trend towards “bad” mud seasons.

“It was chaotic, chaos, right from the get-go,” said Rindge Director of Public Works Mike Cloutier, of this year’s mud season.

The season started earlier than usual, Cloutier said, and the main issue since has been that all the roads were in immediate trouble because of how fast the thaw happened.

“This was too quick, too fast, and there’s nothing you can really do about it,” Cloutier said. “When the thaw happens slowly, you can pick away at the problem spots. This year, it just happened all at once.”

Cloutier said he’s already had to use approximately $11,000 of crushed stone trying to restore Rindge’s gravel roads, an unexpectedly high amount. Cloutier said the season is similar to another early, fast thaw that happened a few years ago, but is worse than is typical.

“The roads are still posted. We get a couple of warm days, and you’ll sink up to your axles on some of them,” Cloutier said.

White said he is used to the complications that come with living on a back road in New England. Buying a vehicle with four-wheel drive is all but a requirement, he said. But it’s not ever year that the private portion of the road requires this much repair, he said.

“When I bought the house, no one lived past me, and traffic was lighter and there was less road damage,” White said. “But as the years go by, a lot of houses have gone up since, and there’s more traffic. It is what it is, and it’s what it means to live on a dirt road in New England.”

 

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


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