Joan Sawyer’s car was damaged by a pothole on March 1. It’s still in the shop.
Sawyer, 76, of Dexter, was driving down Stillwater Avenue in Bangor that Friday afternoon when she saw a car trying to cross over into her lane. She was distracted momentarily as she honked at the car. As Sawyer took her eyes off the road, her Kia Stinger hit a pothole, damaging her tire.
It took more than two hours for Sawyer’s car to be safely towed out of the pothole and brought to the dealership, where it has remained for more than 10 days.
“It’s hazardous,” she said. “People are trying to avoid the potholes, but they’re one after the other. Somebody’s going to get hurt.”
Most Bangor streets are ridden with potholes, cracks or frost heaves. Driving down major roads in the city — by no means a comprehensive effort — we found nearly 200 potholes and deep cracks, some of them severe.
After the BDN published the map Friday morning, the city’s public works director, Eric Willett, said he planned to dispatch all public works staff to try and patch all the documented potholes within 24 hours.
It’s not your imagination: The potholes are worse this year than normal. They are worst of all in the Bangor region.
Road crews have been forced to patch roads earlier this year than normal. And road crews in the Bangor area have applied more hot patch asphalt than crews elsewhere in Maine, according to the state Department of Transportation.
“The potholes are worse this year because of the weather,” Public Works Director Eric Willett said. “The storms have been warm and wet.”
When snowstorms turn to rain, water seeps into cracks in the pavement, and at night when the temperatures drop, it freezes between the cracks. When water freezes, it grows in volume by nearly 10 percent. The expanding ice then breaks up the asphalt, which causes vehicle tires to pick up the loose pieces, creating potholes.
When the roads are salted, it reduces the freezing point of water, which worsens the problem, Willett said.
Public works crews have been working on repairing the broken roads for months now, Willett said. They have not had to close any roads to traffic yet, he said.
“We started patching in December and January instead of March and April,” he said. “That’s when we realized it was going to be bad.”
Bangor Public Works employees Cary Grant and Brian Harris, who were out patching potholes on Kenduskeag Avenue near Griffin Road on Tuesday, said they focused on filling in the biggest of the potholes. If they tried to fill in every one, they said, they would be on a single stretch of road the entire day.
They also said the plow trucks made it worse, calling the plowing and patching a “neverending cycle.”
Every day, five trucks go out all over the city to patch up the worst of the potholes. A truck at night also works on pothole repair. After filling in the cold patch, crews drive over it to use the vehicle’s weight to smooth it into place.
“We’ve already used over 100 tons of cold patch, compared to 50 to 60 tons,” Willett said, quantifying how much worse the potholes are this year than normal. “And we haven’t even started pothole season.”
Broken roads are not just a local problem, but potholes seems particularly bad around Bangor.
“The Bangor area is the worst in the state,” said Brian Burne, highway maintenance engineer at the Maine Department of Transportation.
Out of five regions into which the department splits the state, Bangor-area roads have required the most maintenance, Burne said.
So far, state crews have used 283 tons of coal patch in the southern part of the state, including Portland, 451 tons for midcoast roads and 650 tons for the Bangor area, which is in a maintenance region that also includes Hancock and Washington counties.
The northern and western parts of the state required the least maintenance. Crews have used 185 tons to patch up western Maine roads and more than 100 tons for Aroostook County.
Willett says this is because the warmer storms that bring a combination of snow and rain are worse for roads than just plain old, cold winter weather. In colder weather, snow just freezes on the surface of the roads instead of melting and penetrating the cracks.
“We’re trying to take care of it as best we can,” he said. “But we want it to be cold from November to March. That would save my roads a whole lot.”
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