Bad roads can be painful
By Randy Mace, MBTA President
Carol Kelley of Waldo is this year’s winner of the second annual “Worst Road in Maine” contest, but it was the words of her disabled son, Michael, born with a congenital disability, that caught our attention.
Her entry nominating Routes 131, 137 and 141 made the judges take note: Her son, she wrote, has a spinal rod and his shouts of pain when she hits a rough patch are her “gauge” for road conditions. “Waldo County roads need serious work. Therefore, I nominate Routes 131,139, 141 and all secondary roads that lead to anywhere around here.”
If a road is bad, most people choose a different route. Michael, who feels a bad road in his bones, was forced to change high schools. Carol told us that even with the route change, Michael still had a rough ride, so she and her husband invested $1,100 in special springs to help ease the pain.
While most people didn’t feel the impact of bad roads as personally as Carol and Michael Kelley, discontent about the condition of our roads may be growing. This year the Worst Road contest drew more than twice the entries of last year’s contest. The contest gives Maine drivers a welcome opportunity to gripe about the condition of their highways. We also award a $250 check for car repair – the amount the average Mainer pays in added vehicle maintenance costs due to bad roads. Still, we suspect many of the people who nominated roads and sent photos just appreciated the chance to sound off. Many of them we spoke with hope that, somehow, their nomination will raise awareness of just how bad their road is and convince someone to fix it.
That’s not going to be easy. Maine will be spending $230 million less on its highways and bridges in this biennium. There has been support among several Republican and Democratic legislators for a transportation bond during the second session of the Maine Legislature. If a bond does pass and goes out to voters, we could get some relief, but it will only be temporary if our leaders do not soon put their heads together and agree on a long-term funding solution.
This year, in addition to first, second and third place winners, we awarded eight runners-up. Among them was Michael Anderson of Sebago, who nominated Rt. 114 from East Sebago to North Standish that he wrote is “just terrible,” and that cost him $70 to replace a sway bar. Alic Albright of Unity chose Castine Road “for its hellacious bumps, foot deep pot holes, and frost heaves.” Polly Hafford of St. Francis sent a picture of herself holding a yardstick to show why, thanks to crumbling pavement, Route 161 may be “the narrowest road in the state.” Others include Linda Trenholm of Holden who says, thanks to Route 46, she is on a first name basis with the gang at Warren Auto Body who align her car every time she gets an oil change.
It should come as no surprise bad roads are a bigger problem than last year, the first year of our contest, and that the problem is statewide. MaineDOT and our local governments are doing the best they can with the limited resources they have to address the ever-growing list of problem roads.
We’d be willing to bet that while several of this year’s entries are slated for skinny mix paving on MaineDOT’s current work plan, they will be back in a year or two because they are in need of much more substantial repair. Laura Hall, a 2011 Worst Roads runner-up said that the road she entered in the 2010 contest (Route 220 in Washington) was paved last summer, but already areas of the new asphalt have worn away showing the cracked surface below.
The fact is, Maine has some of the worst roads in the country. This August, The Road Information Program released a report that placed Maine’s rural roads as the 14th worst in the nation and our rural bridges are the 12th worst. The research confirms what Mainers already know. Mainers also recognize the importance of good roads and the role they play in keeping citizens safe and supporting local economies.
We hope our leaders in Augusta and Washington will take responsibility and do all that they can to fix our bad roads and get our economy back on track. Because we look forward to the day when we will be able to confidently run a “Best Road in Maine” contest. Until then, it is MBTA’s mission to spread the word about the great personal and public price we all pay for every bad road in Maine.