GUEST COLUMN: On the condition of roads in Sandgate


The state of Vermont mandates that each town-municipality is to hold one annual meeting in early March and two meetings each month to be held by the Select Board. Each of these is duly warned. In the town of Sandgate, as in other towns, various reports and activities concerning the town are discussed. The major topic of discussion is the upcoming fiscal budget. Concerning the budget, the principle items for discussion are the school budget and the road management budget. Each of these two budgets are subject to approval by vote of the people in the town.

The town meeting will be March 3 at 7 p.m. Select Board meetings are the first and third Mondays of the month, at 7 p.m.

All things constructed on or into the soil, whether buildings and roads or bridges over rivers and streams, suffer from the ravages of time, climate changes, weather and use. Roadways are forever of concern to the people of any town in Vermont. Consistent maintenance -- upgrades, repairs and replacement of structures -- is of paramount importance.

Major issues confronting the town of Sandgate, as well as other towns, are brought on by the extreme weather conditions in Vermont. These situations usually are severely affected by the mountainous terrain. Roads are severely affected by high winds, rain and snow. Roads can be washed out. Bridges can be damaged or destroyed. Condemnations and recommendations of the state of Vermont frequently get into the picture.

We are dependent on these roadways because of our work, health, social life, recreation and emergencies. Special attention is given to school bus routes and to citizens with special needs. For many, there is one single road available. The Select Board and maintenance crew are well aware of the above situations.

Two elements affect road conditions. One is the mountainous terrain. The second is the nature of Vermont soil. In winter, the weather brings snow. The exact time of the arrival and depth of the snow most of the time is fairly accurate, but at times is guess-work. We really know only after the storm passes by. Freezing rain as well is predictable, buythe actual severity and arrival time are predicted, but not 100 percent accurately.

The equipment to deal with the above situations is ready and waiting. As always, in the past and now, the exact timing for going into action and determining the amount of materials and their application is a judgment call. As any human activity, the action taken under these conditions can be in a timely way and done to most people's satisfactions. Other times it call fall short of expectations and requirements.

Dirt is hard to manage when water-logged. When the water in the dirt freezes, it expands, causing the dirt to expand. This results in the ground swell in the road bed. When the frost leaves the ground the dirt particles separate. When these dirt particles are soaked in the water the road bed softens. It turns into mud.

Vehicle tracks are deepened. The sides of these tracks are lined with a build-up of mud. (Roadways get difficult to manage with vehicles, especially cars.) Depending on the depth and severity of the freeze, car driving conditions can become hazardous. At this point, the roads need attention if the muddy roadway freezes. Those deep tracks and elevations along the track become hardened. They become ruts and it becomes difficult and dangerous to use the roads. Tempers flare. Confrontations ensue; remarks are made; corrections are demanded.

Yearly, these same conditions develop and the same disagreements occur. Former years are forgotten. The new snow freeze and thaw come unexpectedly. We are surprised.

Many solutions are offered. Some say we take care of things as they happen, other say that the road should be fixed so that the problem will not happen again. Some say, without specifying how it can be done, it simply must be done immediately.

To be more specific, there have been solutions offered from different points of view.

1. Ask the weatherman to change the forecast.

2. Shut the roads down to traffic.

3. "If you people weren't living on those gravel roads, you wouldn't have that problem."

4. The roads could be improved to a degree that they would hold up under such conditions.

5. Have the roads paved.

6. As in past years, manage the roads dependent on their condition as created by the forces of nature.

No matter what wishes or demands are imposed on the road crews, we have to operate under certain constraints. In any reasonable decision we make, our approach ultimately will be dependent on the bottom line.

Ed Gust is a member of the Sandgate Select Board.


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