AUGUSTA — Deliveries to customers are up at College Carryout these days, but that may have as much to do with the potholed pavement of Mount Vernon Avenue as it does the popularity of the shop’s pepperoni pizza.
Lou Craig, owner of the Augusta pizza and sandwich joint, said the road that passes by College Carryout and is a major gateway into the city is in such rough shape some former regulars tell him they don’t come by anymore, for fear of damaging their vehicles.
Overall business is down, Craig said, and he believes the condition of the road has something to do with it. But more customers are having food delivered.
“The other night our delivery driver said a customer told him ‘I figured I’d break your axle, not mine,’” Craig said. “It’s patch on top of patch on top of patch. It’s like a cobblestone road, it’s so rough. It’s a killer for business.”
Whether it is enough to make Mount Vernon Avenue the “winner” of the Maine Better Transportation Association’s “Worst Road in Maine Contest,” remains to be seen. Craig said Mount Vernon Avenue would get his vote as the worst, at least in the area.
But roads showing signs of a rough winter are hardly exclusive to the capital region. And those roads have a cost to Mainers in increased vehicle maintenance and repair costs, safety risks, and longer travel times.
Tom Gorrill, president of the Maine Better Transportation Association, said a recent study estimates the average Mainer paid $296 a year for vehicle maintenance because of bad roads.
Thus, the cash award for submitting the winning entry in the worst road contest is $296.
“We do this contest to remind our state leaders that bad roads impact their constituents’ lives every day,” Gorrill said in a news release from the organization that advocates for investment in transportation, and includes numerous representatives from the construction industry as members. “When you look at how the rest of the country is doing, the ride is definitely rougher in Maine.”
Gorrill said state and federal data indicates 46 percent of the state’s major arterial roads had poor pavement, compared to 32 percent nationally, 66 percent of the state’s minor arterial roads have poor pavement compared to 48 percent nationally, and 91 percent of Maine’s rural major collector roads have poor pavement, compared to 67 percent nationally.
Things are especially bad this time of year, according to Dan Brooks, of Winthrop, service manager at Brooks Boys Auto Sales in Augusta.
“We run into a lot more steering, suspension, shocks and springs-type problems this time of year,” Brooks said Monday. “If it’s not directly related to hitting a pothole, it’s definitely related to several years of (hitting potholes).”
Brooks said roads seem worse than usual this year, and he blames the harsh cycle repeated over the winter of freezing, thawing and freezing again. He said even roads like routes 41 and 135 in Winthrop, paved just last year, are already showing early signs of wear after this winter.
“This winter has been very challenging,” said Ted Talbot, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. “We’re not only losing our bad roads, we’re losing some of our good ones, too. It’s at all levels.”
Talbot agreed with Brooks that this winter’s multiple freeze-thaw cycles put an especially strong hit on Maine’s roads this winter.
“This winter we’ve had those fluctuating temperatures, some extreme lows then moderate temperatures and back again,” Talbot said. “That’s one of the main ingredients for potholes. That’s what everybody has seen.”
Other central Maine roads local motorists said should be nominated for worst road in the state include: Highland Avenue and High Street in Gardiner; Route 41 into Mount Vernon; Main Street and Memorial Drive in Winthrop; and Stone Street, Riverside Drive and Western Avenue in Augusta.
One motorist joked he saw a tiny Smart car go into a stretch of potholes on Main Street in downtown Winthrop and never come back out.
Craig said he frequently sees motorists who have pulled into parking lots on the side of Mount Vernon Avenue to change flat tires.
And this winter’s deterioration of Mount Vernon Avenue comes two summers removed from a major Greater Augusta Utility District project replacing sewer lines, which tore up much of the avenue and impacted businesses along the road.
For the Augusta area, at least, some help is imminent. Numerous major state roads in the city, including Mount Vernon Avenue, Western Avenue, Civic Center Drive and Riverside Drive, are slated for some level of repaving this upcoming construction season.
Talbot said Mount Vernon Avenue is due for at least some paving this construction season, and is scheduled for a larger reconstruction in 2015.
“As winter winds down we evaluate and prioritize where our best efforts need to be concentrated,” Talbot said. “We’re $110 million short, each year, of what we need to do. So we’re constantly forced to prioritize.”
Craig is looking forward to Mount Vernon Avenue getting fixed, even though that means additional disruptions to businesses on the road, his included.
The 2014 Worst Road in Maine contest ends May 15. All who enter will receive a bright orange bumper sticker to match those orange “bump” and “frost heave” signs seen along many roads. Contest entry forms are online at www.FixMaineRoads.org.
Keith Edwards – 621-5647 firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @kedwardskj