It’s the mud, it’s the mud: Warm temps, March rains bring heavy duty mud season

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Vermont’s fifth season is in full swing in Chester and most of  the town’s 75 miles of Class 3 roads are dirt, which have turned to mud in many places. Road Foreman Kirby Putnam says this is one of the worst mud seasons in years for a number of roads.

Mud season happens when the dirt roads that have frozen deep during the winter begin the thaw from the top down. That means that water can’t percolate through the frozen layers below the surface and the standing water mixes with the dirt surface creating mud.

When the temperatures are higher – especially overnight – it’s difficult for the town to work on the roads, Putnam said Friday, since putting a 50,000- to 60,000-pound, 10-wheel dump truck digs up the road, doing even more damage. During mud season, the town limits the weight of vehicles to 20,000 pounds.

“The time to work on the road is when it’s freezing,” added Putnam, noting that when temperatures drop that low overnight, crews will work those hours to fix the roads either putting down stone or grading.

“It’s counter-intuitive, but a nice slow, long rain seems to help,” says Town Manager Julie Hance.

“That draws the frost out of the ground and let’s the water run,” says Putnam.

The mud makes people wonder how emergency services like fire and ambulance get through. Fire Chief Matt Wilson told The Telegraph that he keeps in touch with the Highway Department  to know where there are problems and plots alternate routes. He also drives the routes from time to time to look at conditions.

“But in my 26 years (in the Fire Department) we have never not made it somewhere because of the mud,” said Wilson, who also noted that that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. He added that the ambulance is equipped with four-wheel drive, which makes it easier to get through the mud without tearing up the road.

What can you do to minimize the damage and inconvenience and help emergency services get through?

Here are a few things:

  • First: slow down. “You don’t have to hit the mud at 40 mph,” says Putnam.
  • If you have four-wheel drive, use it. It will spread the driving force over more wheels to minimize the impact on the road surface.
  • Ease through the mud steadily. Gunning the engine digs ruts. And gunning it on the way out of a rut lengthens the rut.
  • Choose a route through the mud and try not to dig the ruts deeper.
  • Limit the number of trips over the dirt roads by combining errands.
  • Schedule truck trips like fuel deliveries for later if possible.

In 2005, the Army Corps of Engineers looked at the problem of mud season in Vermont and did a lengthy study that tested methods for correcting the problem.  Called “Improved Performance of Unpaved Roads During Spring Thaw,” the study’s final report estimated the cost of lessening the problem of mud season to be between $140,000 and $400,000 per mile. And that’s in 2005 dollars.




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  1. Jay Joseph says:

    Thanks to the town crews for their relentless work on getting our roads passable during one of our worst mud seasons.
    Jay Joseph & Susan
    Lovers Lane