BERLIN — With their road superintendent predicting that the mother of all mud seasons will eventually arrive, the Select Board this week agreed to barricade Crosstown Road in an effort to prevent the popular shortcut from turning into an expensive mucky mess.
On a night when they also elected a new chairman and were told that their voter-approved plan to construct a municipal water system was making steady progress, board members agreed to allow Road Superintendent Tim Davis to close Crosstown Road at his discretion.
Though temperatures ticked up Tuesday, Davis told board members Monday night that the long-range forecast calls for them to drop back below freezing, making when to close the road something of a moving target.
However, he warned that not quickly closing it to through traffic would be a mistake.
“Once the warm weather comes it’s going to come fast and hard, and the roads are going to go fast,” he predicted.
According to Davis, Crosstown Road, which runs between Route 12 in Riverton and the Berlin Four Corners area, is more vulnerable than most town roads due to the high volume of traffic it sees daily.
Past traffic counts have indicated 1,800 vehicles traverse Crosstown Road on an average day, though Davis said the pothole-pocked stretch of Route 12 between Northfield and Montpelier has made the shortcut that much more attractive in recent weeks.
“Route 12 is so bad right now everybody is using Crosstown Road,” he said.
That daily pounding is fine for now, but when the road begins to thaw, Davis said, keeping it open would create a significant drain on limited resources that will be needed elsewhere.
“We’re going to have a bad mud season, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “The frost is so deep now it’s scary.”
Davis predicted the $19,000 he has left in his budget to supplement the gravel he has already stockpiled won’t be nearly enough to deal with mud season.
“We’re looking maybe $30,000 to $40,000 buying material if we’re going to fix roads so people can get home,” he said, noting that assumed the board went along with his plan to close Crosstown Road.
According to Davis, putting up “Road closed” signs wouldn’t cut it because they have routinely been ignored in the past.
“The signs aren’t going to stop them, especially at night,” he said, suggesting barricades be placed to block through traffic.
Crosstown Road residents who live on the Riverton side of the proposed barricade can use Route 12, while those on the opposite end of the road would be required to use Paine Turnpike.
Though Crosstown Road has never been barricaded during past mud seasons, Selectman Pete Kelley said this year would be a good year to experiment with that option.
“It seems like a year when it will be easy to defend that action,” he said.
Given the current weather forecast, Davis said closing the road probably won’t be necessary until April 1. When the road is closed, signs noting the presence of a barricade will be posted on both ends, and emergency personnel in neighboring Northfield will be notified.
In other business Monday night, board members elected Ture Nelson to replace veteran Chairman Brad Towne and received a brief update on plans to construct a municipal water system serving the Berlin Four Corners area.
Mark Youngstrom, of Otter Creek Engineering, told the board the town is preparing to convert expressions of interest in the proposed system into signed agreements. Construction plans are 90 percent complete, he added, and the project could be ready to put out to bid this summer.
Two key components of the project — a 400,000-gallon storage tank and pump station planned off Scott Hill Road — were scheduled to be considered by the local Development Review Board on Tuesday night.
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