‘WORST MAINE ROADS’: Frustrating and Painful
Second annual contest draws entries from all corners of state; 11 roads and their drivers’ experiences are singled out as among Maine’s worst.
By Kathryn Buxton
This august, The Road Information Program (TRIP) announced that Maine’s rural roads are among the worst in the country. That is not exactly news for Carol Kelley, winner of the 2011 Worst Road in Maine contest. She and her family live with that reality every day in rural Waldo County and were one of 120 Worst Road in Maine contest entries – more than double the number of people who entered the contest during its first year.
Kelley, in fact, wanted to nominate all of the roads near her home, but in the end selected just three she and her family drive daily – Routes 131, 137 and 141. The bad condition of local roads is something the Kelleys feel keenly. Son Michael was born with a congenital condition and has a spinal rod to help support his weak muscle and bone structure. Every time the Kelleys drive Michael to school, to physical therapy or to doctor appointments, is an ordeal.
“My disabled son is my gauge,” wrote Kelley when she entered the contest. “He has a spinal rod and these rough roads make it impossible for us to go anywhere without him screeching ‘Holy - - - -, Mom!’” Kelley said the roads have been so bad for so long, the family invested an extra $1,100 in special springs to help ease the ride. They also requested that Michael be transferred to a high school on a better road in a different town (he graduated from Belfast Area High School in Maine after Kelley entered the contest).
But things are looking up. This spring, two of the roads on Kelley’s list of Waldo County bad roads were slated by MaineDOT to receive maintenance surface paving this year, so many of Michael’s rides around his hometown have improved. “Routes 131 and 137 are much better, but Route 141 is still pretty rough going,” said Kelley.
And, of course, Kelley is the grand prize winner of the Worst Road in Maine contest, and that comes with a $250 check for car maintenance.
“The Kelleys’ story was especially compelling. We tend to think of bad roads as wasting our time and causing the alignment to go out on your car, but knowing that every pothole and frost heave causes your son pain, that really makes you cringe,” said MBTA President Randy Mace.
14th worst in the nation
The TRIP report on rural roads, released in early September, ranked the condition of rural roads and bridges in all 50 states. Not surprisingly, Maine and its New England neighbors fared badly in the report. Highway systems in the northeast are among the oldest in the nation and are further handicapped by harsh winter weather that wears heavily on pavement and bridge infrastructure. According to TRIP, which ranks roads based on federal and state condition reports, Maine’s rural roads are the 14th worst in the nation and its bridges are 12th worst.
“We definitely have fallen behind in our efforts to maintain our rural roads,” said MBTA’s Mace. “It’s a matter of priorities and having to make difficult decisions about where to spend the limited transportation dollars we have. All too often, this perennial shortage of funding comes at a cost to our rural roads.”
Mace noted that rural roads represented more than 50 percent of all the entries received. “It’s clear the edges of our transportation network are fraying. Those are roads that many Maine residents rely on to get to school and work and businesses need to get their products to market,” he said.
He cited the story of runner-up Alic Albright of Unity who nominated Castine Road from Bucksport to Castine. The road is a lifeline for Maine Maritime students and staff and is well known for what Albright called “hellacious bumps, foot-deep potholes and frost heaves . . . this is known by the 858 students and 52 faculty as ‘the Worst Road in Maine.’”
“In the photo Alic sent in, the road looks like the paving is just crumbling in front of your eyes, and there is no shoulder to speak of. The lack of a good shoulder is a major safety issue for rural drivers,” said Mace. This summer, MaineDOT included a sizable stretch of the road on its paving to-do list, but Mace fears the problem is still lurking right under the surface of that new coat of asphalt.
“Paving a road like this is a good short-term fix, but it’s really only a Band-Aid. This is an old road and it most certainly will need to be repaved again within a few years. It needs to be reconstructed to modern standards,” said Mace. He said rebuilding the road and improving the drainage would help keep the frost heaves and potholes from re-forming every year.
Ode to a bad road
Two people nominated Route 46 in Holden. Parts of the road north of Holden have been slated for repairs by MaineDOT this year. But this spring, when Robert Bolton and Linda Trenholm nominated the state highway, the late winter thaw-and-freeze cycle was wreaking havoc on the road. Bolton said it is so rough that local plow drivers have a hard time plowing it in the winter, making it more dangerous to travel on in snow.
Trenholm was inspired by her drive and the contest to write this poem:
My car gets kicked on Route 46!
It winds from Holden to Bucksport
Won’t you get hip to this timely tip?
Ladies, put on the sports bra
Gents strap down the tools
You’ll get more air than Seth Westcott
Off these potholes and frost heaves.
Signs of frustration
Donna Melanson’s second-place entry, West Street in Princeton, presented a witty take on just how frustrating Maine’s worst roads are for the people who depend on them. Her photo of a sign-laden telephone pole on West Street in Princeton included one announcing that the road was posted and was off limits to heavy vehicles. A second sign indicates the road is an important connector to the local airport. A third sign – hand lettered – reads “Pot Hole Blvd. Get in. Sit down. Shut up. Hang on.”
“The sign says it all,” wrote Melanson on her entry form.
Melanson takes West Street daily to her job as a bookkeeper. She makes sure to drive slowly and straddle the centerline to avoid potholes that could damage her SUV. She said the road is so bad, one neighbor couldn’t stand it any longer and moved.
“They keep filling in the potholes, but it doesn’t last,” said Melanson.
Runners up Larissa Kothenbeutel and Alvin Moore both nominated Route 127 from Woolwich to Dresden and their descriptions of the road are remarkably similar. “Lots of BUMPS, heaves, cracked crowns and potholes,” wrote Kothenbeutel. “This road has so many frost heaves and spots that are sunken in that I have bottomed out many times,” reported Moore who said he has spent $356 to repair damages caused by the bad road.
Kothenbeutel cracked an engine cover while driving on Route 127 and incurred various other repairs. Still, she counts herself lucky because she’s married to a mechanic, so only had to pay about $400 for parts. “Twenty years ago, this road wasn’t good at all, and it’s never gotten better. It’s only gotten worse,” said Kothenbeutel.
Runner-up Cynthia Layne-Butters, who nominated Route 113 in Stow, said the roads near her home have been bad for as long as she remembers and that not much has changed over the years. She remembers her mother frequently complaining when she was young. “She used to say she knocked her car out of alignment on the way to work and back in on the way home,” recalled Layne-Butters.
Urban roads, too
This year, several roads in more urban areas showed up among the entries. River Road in Windham – one of last year’s finalists – was nominated several times over and was selected as a runner-up. The road is a well-known trouble spot in southern Maine, a heavily traveled commuter corridor and major collector that carries thousands of vehicles every day. According to MaineDOT, there were more than 150 accidents reported on the road between 2007 and 2009, as well as several fatalities. The department has included funding in its 2012-2013 work plan to reconstruct six miles of the road and incorporate new safety features. That is not a moment too soon for area commuters who have had to live with this dangerous road for years.
“This road is historically dangerous to drive with twists and turns, and with chronically deteriorated road surface added in, it’s unsafe. There are deep furrows and large, broken areas of holes and road surface – not only on the sides of the road but all through,” wrote Anne Balestrieri, one of more than 20 Mainers who saw fit to enter this particular road in the contest.
Washington Street in Waterville – a particularly troublesome stretch of road heavily traveled by students, staff and alumni between the Colby College Field House and Rice Rips Road – was another urban nominee that received multiple entries. “This road should be labeled undriveable,” wrote Eileen Richards.
But it was Philip Champoux who expressed the common desire of every single contest entrant with one short, simple sentence. “Please fix it.”
For more information about the winning/worst roads and MBTA’s advocacy efforts to promote safer, more efficient transportation in Maine, visit FixMaineRoads.org
1st PRIZE: Route 141 near Swanville and Belfast, Carol Kelley
2nd PLACE: West Street in Princeton, Donna Melanson
3rd PLACE: Route 105 from Windsor/Somerville to Washington, Laura Hall
RUNNER UP: Castine Road / Route 166 from Orland to Castine, Alic Albright
RUNNER UP: Route 161 in St. Francis, Polly Hafford
RUNNER UP: Route 127 from Woolwich to Dresden, Alvin Moore and Larissa Kothenbeutel
RUNNER UP: Route 46 in Holden, Linda Trenholm and Robert Bolton
RUNNER UP: Route 113 in Stow, Cynthia Layne-Butters
RUNNER UP: Route 114 from Sebago to North Standish, Michael Anderson
RUNNER UP: Washington Street in Waterville, multiple entries
RUNNER UP: River Road, Windham, multiple entries