Route 15 crowned ‘Worst Road in Maine’
Harrowing tale of Blue Hill-to-Stonington ride wins top spot among 220 contest entries
Gabriel Zacchai, a resident of Camden who wrote about a five-mile-per-hour trip on Route 15 to from Blue Hill to Stonington this spring, is winner of the 2014 Worst Road in Maine Contest. Zacchai, a Camden resident who works for the Camden National Bank, is frequently on the road for his job as facilities specialist. He had been contemplating entering two other routes he frequently travels – Old County Road in Rockland and Route 131 from Belfast to Appleton. But he became convinced that Route 15 was the worst when he had to make a trip to Stonington to deliver equipment to the local bank branch.
That trip, during the height of Maine’s annual pothole season, was long and arduous, according to Zacchai, “I drove over 40 miles at about 5 miles-per-hour with a file cabinet that was determined to jump from the back seat into the front seat with me. If you live in Stonington, and you need anything from anywhere, I guess you take a boat."
‘We know it’s bad’
MBTA President Jim Hanley noted that choosing a winner was challenging this year, because the cold, snowy winter and long thaw-and-freeze cycle this spring really took a heavy toll on state roads. The contest had a record number of entries from almost every corner of the state. Hanley noted that one telltale sign of Route 15’s bad condition was the number of times it was nominated during the contest that ran from early April through mid May.
“We know this road is bad, because we had more than a dozen entries come in for Route 15,” said Hanley. Still, Zacchai’s entry was special – from the photo of the “Frost Heave” sign he photographed during his trip to his story of trying to get from Blue Hill to Stonington to deliver office furniture for his employer.
Zacchai’s entry highlights the problems that bad roads cause Mainers every day. Research shows that the average Maine driver pays an extra $296 every year in extra vehicle maintenance due to rough roads. Gabriel’s story also speaks to other impacts of rough roads on daily life in Maine.
“We are caught in a bad cycle that, at best, means we only have funding to fill the potholes on so many important regional roads like Route 15,” added Hanley. MBTA’s research shows that Maine’s federal funding for roads is decreasing as vehicles become more fuel efficient, and the state currently has no alternative funding in place. Said Hanley: “We have got to make roads a bigger priority because it is hurting our economy.”
“What is the Worst Road in Maine?” MBTA first asked that question in 2010. In fact, the organization turned the question into a social media contest and launched it on a special Facebook page, www.Facebook/FixMaineRoads. In 2010, more than 1,000 people “liked” the contest on Facebook.
Martha Jordan of Turner was the contest’s very first winner for her entry, Route 219 from Turner to Leeds. She sent in a photo of a bent rim and the ensuing $1,000 repair bill.
“This contest really works to get at the heart of problems that bad roads cause Mainers every day,” said Hanley. He noted, that in addition to the added mainetance costs, bad roads have even greater implications for Maine drivers and communities that rely on the network of rural highways, arterials and collector roads to connect residents to schools, shopping and work and to take Maine products to market. Lost economic opportunities and increased business costs are major concerns. Safety is another.
Currently, between 46 and 91 percent of the pavement on Maine’s arterial and collector roads is ranked poor or worse, compared to 31 percent nationally. And on average, Maine bridges are older and in worse condition than the rest of the nation’s bridges (15 percent of Maine bridges are structurally deficient and another 18 percent are functionally obsolete).
“Gabriel’s entry highlights that bad roads not only slow down our economy, they are potentially very dangerous,” said Hanley.
A recent report by TRIP, The Road Information Program, noted 161 of 164 fatal Maine crashes (98 percent) occurred on rural roads. That number was up significantly over 2009 (86 percent) when the data was last examined. The national average is closer to 50 percent.
“There is data that shows there are more accidents on rural roads that aren’t in good shape,” MBTA Executive Director Maria Fuentes told the Bangor Daily News.
Said Fuentes: “It’s a safety issue, and it’s an economic issue. And I think it’s something that impacts every person in the state.”
Here’s a look at the winner of the 2014 Worst Road in Maine contest and the seven runners up.
2014 WORST ROAD IN MAINE: Route 15 Blue Hill to Stonington, Gabriel Zacchai
Zacchai in his official entry: “As a 42-year-old native Mainer, I can say with absolute certainty that this is THE WORST PAVED ROAD I HAVE EVER TRIED TO MOVE A CAR OVER IN MY LIFE. I THOUGHT THE FRONT END OF THE CAR WAS GONNA COME OFF.” The trip, during the height of Maine’s annual pothole season, was long and arduous, according to Zacchai. “I drove over 40 miles at about 5 miles-per-hour with a file cabinet that was determined to jump from the back seat into the front seat with me. If you live in Stonington, and you need anything from anywhere, I guess you take a boat."
RUNNER UP: Route 15, Rockwood, Lisa Hargreaves
Lisa Hargreaves, who likened another section of Route 15 in Rockwood to riding on the surface of the moon, was one of seven runners up in the 2014 contest. Hargreaves wrote: “Traveling along Route 15 in my Jeep Wrangler made me think of what it might feel like riding in the lunar rover over the moon's surface. There's no need for the 25 MPH road sign there; no vehicle could hold up going that fast right now!”
Hargreaves, who is from Wiscasset, and was on vacation when she took the photo of her almost-winning entry on a snowy day this spring, said her friends have asked her why she didn’t enter a road closer to home. “They say that Lincoln County roads are the worst,” said Hargreaves. “But no, this was bad.”
RUNNER UP: Route 183, Sullivan, Bruce Munger
Bruce Munger of Sullivan is a firefighter who already is famous locally for capturing his entry, Route 183 / Tunk Lake Road, in Sullivan, on film. His entry, showing flowers planted in one particularly large pothole, was a topic of discussion on country music station Q106.5 by morning deejay J.R. Mitchell. Munger said he did not plant the flowers, but happened along the road shortly after another local resident did. He said she planted the flowers so her daughter would see and avoid the giant pothole.
Munger, who has quite a sense of humor, said residents made a sport of driving on Route 183. He wrote in his official entry: “Pot holes big enough to double as plant pots. During the Winter Olympics, we had our own local events on this road, including the pothole slalom and several big jumps over the frost heaves, with scraped asphalt providing testimony to the many hard landings.”
RUNNER UP: Route 121, Oxford, Amy Brousseau
Amy Brousseau, wrote in about the economic hardship caused by bad roads, such as her entry Route 121 in Oxford. “I think this [entry] should win because Oxford and Androscoggin counties are two of the poorest counties in Maine and residents of these counties can ill afford the car repairs,” she wrote. “I've driven many miles in Maine and notice that southern Maine gets all the attention. The area I'm suggesting for repairs is very near the casino. If Maine is a state that wants to bill itself as Vacationland, it needs to address this area too.”
Contacted for this contest this summer, Brousseau was pleased to report that there has been some relief. She said she was glad to see that paving trucks have been out on the road recently putting down a layer of fresh asphalt. Her section of road is part of a light capital paving project extending through the heart of the region, including in Mechanic Falls, Minot, Oxford, Albany Township, Waterford and Sweden.
RUNNER UP: Route 35, Harrison, Angela Maddocks
Safety was a frequent concern of Mainers entering the contest. That was the case for Angela Maddocks who wrote on her entry about seeing “sparks fly” when cars hit frost heaves on Route 35 in Harrison and spoke of a family member who was in a fatal accident on the road. Maddocks’ frustration with the situation is evident in both her written and photo entry, that features a sign on the road that reads: “ROAD SUCKS next 11 miles.”
She wrote: “The frost heaves are extreme!!! I've seen sparks flying out from under vehicles as they accidentally hit these frost heaves or pot holes. This road is only getting worse as it is left neglected, and now that the spring thaw has begun, the road now floods over with water in places were the culverts are not sufficient. . . Not to mention the fatal accident which happened down in the intersection by my house that the news said was related to frost heaves and, unfortunately, was the mother of my niece and nephew. These roads are ridiculous!!!!!!!”
RUNNER UP: Mill Street, Madawaska, John Young
Sometimes the photo and the entrant’s story combine to tell about the bigger toll of bad roads on Maine daily life. That was the case of Mill Street in Madawaska, nominated by John Young. He wrote about the impact bad roads can have on the cross-border economy. Still, his photo entry of a parent navigating potholes with a child in a baby stroller on Mill Street, emphasized concerns about safety.
Young wrote: “I believe this road should win the worst road in Maine contest because it is a disgraceful way to welcome our neighbors from Canada to our country. Cars and trucks have to drive on the wrong side of the road to avoid all the potholes.”