Repeatedly patched potholes on Blair Road in Augusta are shown on Tuesday. One estimate is that nearly a quarter of the city’s roads need some work and the price tag could be $26 million.  Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — The city’s deteriorating streets are a looming $26 million problem that’s getting worse with every passing vehicle and jump in paving costs.

A 2022 report by an outside firm indicated 22% of the city’s streets have two years or less of remaining service life left. And 74% of its streets have a remaining service life of four to 10 years.

Just fixing the 22% of Augusta’s streets that need the most immediate attention, some of which may require full rebuilds, could cost an estimated $26 million, according to Tyler Pease, city engineer. That figure is more than half the city’s entire annual municipal budget, meaning that much work isn’t likely to be funded at once, or would require a massive tax increase, if it were.

And it’s a problem that’s only worsening in recent years as the city has cut back on how much it spends on paving at the same time as paving costs have, until a decrease this year, skyrocketed for several years. That means the city is getting less paving done for every dollar of what it does spend.

In 2023 the city expects to pave about 2.8 miles of its streets, on a budget of just under $400,000, not counting the reconstruction of a few specific roads paid for through the city’s ongoing capital improvement plan. In 2022, Augusta paved 3.3 miles of streets, with a budget of about $420,000.

The firm iWorQ, which did an independent analysis of Augusta’s 146 miles of paved streets, recommended the city budget about $1.7 million a year just for chip sealing, a process used to extend the life of paved roads. The city has been spending between $400,000 and $578,000 a year for the last several years on paving alone.


“We’ve been talking about we’re falling behind since 2021,” Lesley Jones, the city’s longtime public works director, told city councilors during a recent discussion of the problem. “We’re behind the eight-ball, we’re aware of it and part of the solution is money.”

Cracked pavement on Church Hill Road in Augusta is shown on Tuesday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Jones said several years ago Augusta sent a borrowing package to voters for approval, with a three-year plan to work on the city’s road network. She said she and others have “floated that around” as an idea to address the current need for more road paving, but aren’t going any further than that until they get direction from city leaders on what they’d like to do.

Susan Robertson, city manager, said it generally takes about a year-and-a-half to put together a bond proposal for voters to consider and, if they approve, issue the bonds, get the money and put out bids for paving.

Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind said he’s gotten calls from constituents expressing concerns about the quality of the city’s roads since he was first elected six years ago but seems to be getting more recently. He said roads such as Church Hill Road have failed shoulders and grooves in the pavement he fears could result in vehicles hydroplaning.

“Every year we’re getting further and further behind on our roads,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time (to fix) because it’s been a long time in the making. I think the sweet spot is to find out how much debt service we can afford and not impact our taxpayers too greatly.”

Augusta Public Works Director Lesley Jones surveys crosswalks for a new travel pattern on Water Street in 2019. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

Blair Road is one of several that officials and residents say is in rough shape and in need of repair. The street, which is east of the Kennebec River off U.S. Route 201, has so many potholes and failed pavement patches that one motorist, who declined to be identified, said he drives through an adjacent mobile home park to get around the worst part.


Another in need of attention is Parkwood Drive, where the sidewalks, which are set back a few feet from the roadway, are so overgrown and broken-up that the city painted white lines on the edges of the travel lanes to mark the shoulders so people can walk on the roadside instead of using the sidewalks.

On Brentwood Road, resident Chris Voynik, who is a candidate for City Council, said the surface was so bad residents sent complaints to the public works department. “All we received since then is three loosely packed hot top holes” that likely won’t last through winter, Voynik said.

“I’m not here pointing fingers or anything I’m just here to urge the council to not accept the fact that keeping good roads good and bad roads bad is good policy,” Voynik said. “All of our roads are important, not just the side roads, not just the main roads and not just the ones in certain neighborhoods.”

A sidewalk on Parkwood Drive in Augusta, seen Tuesday, is so overgrown and broken up that the city has marked the shoulder so that people can walk on the road instead. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The city’s public works department is not just short on money, either, it’s also short on workers due to the difficulty of finding enough people to hire to fill open shifts. Jones said the department, which usually has 20 to 25 workers, is down seven drivers. That leaves the remaining workers stretched thin and unable to get to some tasks, including preventative measures they would normally perform, such as ditching.

“We still remain seven drivers down, so that’s about a quarter of our people,” Jones said. “We don’t have the people power. And that’s an overriding concern.”

Roads that Jones said were on the list of streets to be paved the rest of this year included: Blair Road, Child Street, Water Street from Bridge Street to Bond Street, Bridge Street from Water to Commercial, Lipman Road, parts of Ward Road, a small section of Riverton Street, Toby Street, Elm Street, Pleasant Street, Summer Street and Winter Street.

She said difficulty keeping up with road maintenance is not a problem specific to Augusta, with the state and federal government also struggling to stretch public funds to maintain roads and bridges.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.