RUMFORD — Many westbound drivers negotiating Route 2 at the intersection with Lincoln Avenue on Tuesday couldn’t avoid a cluster of potholes.

But between gaps in traffic, drivers swung into the opposite lane to avoid the mess, trying to save nasty yanks on their shock absorbers and suspensions, and scrapes on their undercarriages.

Maine’s pothole season is just getting underway or will be in another few weeks in Western Maine. But in Auburn, it’s already in full swing, Kevin Doyle, an operations manager for Auburn Public Works, said Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ve been out for weeks fixing them on a daily basis,” Doyle said.

He has three shifts available and workers who drive around searching for potholes to fix. That’s not to say they get them all, what with almost 600 miles of Auburn roads to travel.

Pothole season in Auburn usually runs from now through the middle of April, he said. The Auburn Public Works uses a computerized tracking system to track potholes and generate work orders for crews.

“We tell people, ‘Make us aware of it and we’ll fix them,'” Doyle said.

Maine has a state law that requires municipalities to respond to complaints about potholes within 24 hours. But that response can be orange traffic cones or signs alerting drivers to impending bumps. Doyle said Auburn Public Works fixes them instead of marking them.

When complaints come in and when potholes are filled, work orders are generated, complete with details about how much cold patch or hot asphalt mix was used to fill them, and their size and location, among other things.

Like the Maine Department of Transportation, Auburn Public Works has a “hot box,” equipment that is hauled behind a truck and is designed for heating, hauling, storing and dispensing hot asphalt or cold patch material for street and road repair.

“Weather permitting, our third shift will fire it up and our first shift will take it out, but on a day like today, we’re more apt to use cold patch,” Doyle said.

He said Auburn’s pothole season hasn’t reached its worst stage yet, because of prolonged sub-zero temperatures every month this winter. While there is surface water on many roads, they’re still frozen underground.

A good part of the problem, at least in Auburn, Doyle said, is that many roads weren’t designed to handle the high traffic volumes they’re getting, such as 10,000 cars an hour. And that’s not to mention increased heavy truck traffic.

To try to save roads when the frost goes out, the crew posted all of its roads on March 1.

Like other Maine towns, Auburn has many state roads that aren’t the responsibility of public works. But many people don’t understand that, Doyle said.

He said one woman did significant damage to her car in a pothole recently and complained that she pays her taxes in Auburn, but Doyle directed her to the Maine Department of Transportation, which is responsible for the road.

The same holds true for Route 2 in Dixfield and Rumford.

“We haven’t had a huge number of potholes yet, but we get blamed for potholes on Route 2,” said Dixfield Town Manager Linda S. Pagels-Wentworth.

But many potholes that drivers on Route 2 complain about are cold-weather patches that delaminated, said Norman Haggan, regional MDOT manager for Androscoggin, Oxford, Franklin, Somerset and Piscataquis counties.

“If money wasn’t an object, we’d overlay it, but it’s a juggling act with a budget that’s been broke because of the winter we’re having,” Haggan said.

He said MDOT tries to fix potholes when it can.

“It’s not as bad as it could be, because it’s early. The roads are still frozen,” he said.

Rumford Public Works Superintendent Andy Russell said he hadn’t had any recent complaints about potholes, but he sent crews out last week patching what they found.

“We try to get them again as soon as we can,” he said.

The Rumford crew has 60 miles of town roads to check for potholes and another 20 miles of state roads.

Russell is well-aware of the state pothole law.

“If I have to call somebody in, I’d rather have them patch it than just put an orange cone up marking it,” he said.

One problem that most towns and cities are still dealing with is ice buildup from a series of storms that wracked Maine earlier this winter. Sub-zero temperatures and shaded areas compounded the problem.

“Concerning the potholes, we’re still in the Dark Ages here,” said Carthage First Selectman Steve Brown. “Most of our town roads are gravel roads, which with the ice buildup and stuff, actually, they’re pretty smooth.”

“What paved roads that we do have — our town roads — are a couple miles or a little less and they are in good shape, probably, and they are a little rough because of the ice buildup in places,” Brown said.

He said Carthage has a few chronic potholes on the paved Smith Road off Route 2 that should be repaired. However, town officials are waiting for warmer weather.

“Potholes pop up every second, hard telling where,” Newry Code Enforcement Officer David Bonney said.

Newry has 13 town roads comprising 11.5 miles.

“Typically, we try to do a really good job and not let potholes exist for any length of time,” Bonney said. “Newry tries to get to potholes before there is a complaint.”

The town has been getting its roads into preventive maintenance mode rather than letting them lapse into pre-reconstruction mode, which increases potholes, he said.

Bonney and Doyle said they don’t believe this pothole season is any worse than previous ones.

“Of course, at the beginning of every pothole season, people say it feels like it’s worse, but we’ve dealt with the same amount of potholes ever,” Bonney said.

Bethel Town Manager Jim Doar said the town is just trying to get through winter. Pothole season doesn’t start until the frost goes out of the ground, he said.

“I haven’t had a lot of complaints about potholes, just ice on roads that built up so much on curbs,” Doar said. “I think people understand there’s only so much money.”

Canton Town Administrator Scotty Kilbreth said their roads “ain’t broken up too bad, but they haven’t thawed out yet.”

He said he wasn’t aware of any complaints about potholes, but their biggest problem this winter came from ice buildup along the edges of roads.

“They’re worse than potholes, because they’re pretty deep,” Kilbreth said.

Their crew went out two weeks ago to scrape off ice and salt the roads.

Likewise for Dixfield, Public Works Director Calvin Beaumier said.

“We finally just cleared the ice off a couple weeks ago and still have a few more roads to de-ice,” he said.

Beaumier said pothole season hadn’t arrived. But when it does, they “throw cold patch in and hope it holds,” he said.

Paris Town Clerk Elizabeth Knox said she believes pothole season hasn’t started yet.

“We address them when we get complaints, but we haven’t had any complaints,” she said. “This time of the year, it is what it is. We live in Maine, you know.”

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The Maine Department of Transportation devotes a show-and-tell page on its website to potholes, illustrating how they form.

Potholes begin when moisture seeps into the native soil below the road surface and sub-base gravel, the page states. This moisture comes in the form of rain, snow or water seeping into the road bed because of poor roadside drainage.

As temperatures drop, ice forms, causing the ground to expand and push the pavement up. As temperatures rise, the ground returns to normal level, but the pavement often remains elevated above the once-frozen area. This creates a cavity between the pavement and the material below it.

When motor vehicles drive over this cavity, the pressure on the unsupported surface cracks after numerous impacts. The pavement crumbles and falls into the cavity leading to a pothole.


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