WATERVILLE — With Memorial Day weekend looming, police Chief Joseph Massey is hoping the city can avoid another massive traffic jam at Waterville Commons Drive like the one Saturday that gridlocked motorists and frayed tempers.
He has reason for concern.
Saturday’s hours-long jam included road rage, a fight and parts falling off vehicles as they plunged into potholes.
“I had to call officers in and incurred a pretty heavy expense to bring them in, to direct traffic, stop road rage,” Massey said Monday. “We had a report of a fist fight. I called in a couple of additional officers to handle all the problems that occurred on that road.”
The road was being prepared for repaving, and Saturday’s rain, the road’s condition and heavy Saturday shopping traffic brought the situation to head.
As vehicles tried to zig-zag around potholes, ruts and washed-out areas, they were going into other lanes, blocking other cars, Massey said.
Waterville Commons Drive, off upper Main Street, leads into the complex that includes Home Depot, Walmart, Staples, Ruby Tuesday and several other businesses.
Massey said that despite assurances from the company that owns the property that the paving project will be done soon, he’s concerned heavy traffic as people prepare for the holiday weekend’s gardening and spring fixup projects will lead to similar problems.
The property and road are privately owned by Riverview Management of Akron, Ohio, which hired Pike Industries of Fairfield to fix and pave the road. Pike workers patched and leveled the temporary gravel road Saturday night after Saturday’s chaos and on Monday, the road was passable.
“We’re in the middle of repaving it and we had some weather that washed out some of the sub-grade,” said Chuck Novak, a property manager at Riverview. “We will be paving it this week. We started this project two and a half weeks ago and we were anticipating it would have been completed by now.”
Massey, who talked to Novak Monday, said he is satisfied with Novak’s explanation.
“They anticipate to lay down the first coat tomorrow night and final coat next week,” Massey said.
But he added, “We anticipate that the traffic up there is going to be extraordinarily heavy and even if the road is paved smoothly, that traffic is going to be backed up considerably.”
Because Waterville Commons Drive is a privately owned road, the city is not responsible for fixing it, but police were needed Saturday because of the fights and other problems, Massey said.
“We have had road issues there because the road at different times has been so degraded from potholes and ruts and sometimes when we have had downpours it washes places out and makes the gravel road about impassable,” he said. “We had between 50 and 100 calls Saturday afternoon and we had one lady who was pregnant and very, very upset and said âI’m in my car here and can not get out.'”
“The potholes became larger, they became deeper and on Saturday, we had vehicles that bottomed out, we had cars that had parts knocked off, a running board broke off a truck, part of a bumper came off a car and hubcaps came off,” he said.
Massey said among the reports he got was that there were people with special needs in a vehicle stuck in traffic.
Massey called Public Works Director Mark Turner around 2 p.m. Saturday looking for a Pike Intustries contact.
Turner drove to Waterville from his China home to check out the situation. He said he parked at nearby Hannaford supermarket, walked over a ridge and saw “total destruction.”
“There were cars backed up to Walmart — it was a bottleneck,” Turner said. “Even pickup trucks were having a hard time getting through. It was a mess.”
Turner said he thinks Waterville Commons did not build the road correctly when the shopping area was developed many years ago.
“Now, hopefully, they’ll get it all corrected,” he said.
Molly Ayotte, 20, of Sidney, was on Waterville Commons Drive Saturday with her mother, Janet. Ayotte sayd Monday the two planned to go to Walmart, but first stopped at the UPS store at a strip mall across the street. After they got stuck in traffic, they decided not to go to Walmart after all.
“My mom was too afraid to keep driving down the road because she didn’t want to ruin her car,” a Hyundai Sonata, she said. “The road was just so bad. The potholes were so big you couldn’t go more than five miles an hour. People were driving over onto curbs, trying to pass people. It’s like people were in a hurry to go nowhere fast.”
A University of Maine student, Ayotte said she and her mother were stuck in the UPS lot for about 15 minutes and waited another half-hour to get back onto Main Street.
“There was a guy trying to get out of the area and he just put his car in reverse and parked and went into Cappza’s Pizza,” she said. “We were there long enough to see him order a pizza and eat it.”
Meanwhile, Massey said he called Pike Industries and was assured the road would be fixed. He also was going to ask Riverview to reimburse the city for the $300 it cost for police overtime Saturday.
“I am going to contact the company and ask for reimbursement for the money that we spent up there,” he said.
He said some motorists were rude to the officers who responded to help direct traffic and address other problems.
“I felt bad for my officers that they took some pretty awful name-calling,” he said.