April 7, 2013

In northern New England, this season's name is mud

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Mud season comes before the frost fully leaves the ground. Rather than meltwater seeping into the soil, it stays near the surface. That led Robert Frost in his 1934 poem "Two Tramps in Mud Time" to write, "The water for which we may have to look / In summertime with a witching wand, In every wheel rut's now a brook / In every print of a hoof a pond."

It's most noticeable on gravel roads, but the expansion and contractions of the frost can cause pavement to heave, which in turn cracks the pavement, leading to potholes, Rogers said.

In some ways, the solutions to mud season are emerging with modern technology.

In Brattleboro, the town has posted on its website a map, updated daily, that lists the conditions of the town's gravel roads, ranking them from good to closed, said local highway superintendent Hannah O'Connell.

"It's been very well received," she said.

Several years ago, the Vermont Transportation Agency commissioned a study by the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., titled, "Improved performance of unpaved roads during spring thaw." The study found different systems can keep mud at bay using combinations of fabric and permeable material.

There are also pothole-fixing techniques that require cutting square edges from the holes and using emulsions that keep the fill in the hole, Rogers said.

The problem?

One patented solution identified by the 2005 Cold Regions study would cost as much as $444,000 a mile. A simpler solution, $143,000 a mile.

"The capital costs of these activities are often unpalatable to town officials and citizens," the report said.

So people find solutions where they can.

Danziger, a cartoonist who lived for years on a back road in Plainfield, Vt., once drew a cartoon that showed the glories of winter giving way to the promise of spring, but getting from one to the other required passing through an ominous cold-weather jungle called "mud season."

"It separates the wheat from the chaff and the boys from the men," Danziger said of the challenge of learning to drive on a mud-rutted road. "If you can figure out where to put the wheels, do you ride on the high part or the low part to stay out of the ditch? It's kind of a ballet, a pas de deux."

Still, some people give up and wait for the roads to dry.

Eric Oberg, of Calais, advertised online recently looking for a place to park his car near pavement during mud season.

"Walking several miles a day would not do me any harm," his ad said.

It turns out that so far this year, though, that the mud hasn't made his road impassable.

"Lately, our road has been passable, but very rough; with ruts, potholes and washboard waves," Oberg said. "I do recall other times when I wouldn't cross the mud because it was too deep and might trap the car."

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