A vehicle drives down Blake Street on Thursday afternoon after dodging a large pothole on the Lewiston street. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

AUBURN — When Auburn recently issued a traffic alert about potential tire-damaging potholes on Center Street, it was clear that it struck a nerve with the public.

The Sun Journal’s post on social media received more than 300 comments. Many were a variation of the question: “Why do motorists have to pay to get their car inspected if cities can’t even fill in those dang potholes?” Someone even proposed a protest outside Auburn City Hall.

While one commenter claimed to have seen a tire rolling down Center Street, residents said potholes have been damaging a lot more than just tires. One motorist who was unlucky enough to drive on Center Street that fateful day said he was left with a broken front suspension. Someone said a pothole near Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub at Main and Court streets put their car out of alignment, while another said they had to replace their ball joints after just replacing them last year.

Other people gave out recommendations and warnings — “Stay out of the right lane until after Sherwin Williams” — and also listed other dreaded sections of the Twin Cities to drive through.

The Sun Journal asked readers to name the worst areas, and they weren’t shy. Court Street in Auburn, where you “can’t even dodge them because of traffic,” and Main Street in Lewiston seemed to be the big vote-getters.

Also mentioned was Hotel Road, where reconstruction work began Friday, and the intersection near Roy’s All Steak Hamburgers on Washington Street in Auburn that one driver said “rocks my living daylights everyday.”

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In Lewiston, Central Avenue and some Tree Streets areas were mentioned. One respondent said Merrow Road in Auburn is “the worst two miles of pavement in the western hemisphere.”

A crew from Spencer Group Paving of Turner repairs a section of road Wednesday afternoon at the corner of Elm and College streets in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“The potholes are deep, axle-busting monsters that lend the appearance of a war zone in a third world country,” he said.

A lot of residents have questioned why it seems to be so difficult to patch the roads. Or as one commenter said: “Even a dentist will do a temporary filling in a pinch.”

They also want to know why the conditions are so bad this year. One thing is certain: The consistent rainstorms this winter and freezing and thawing of the ground didn’t help.

Elected officials say they have been inundated with pleas from constituents as well. Prior to the start of the most recent City Council meeting in Lewiston, the first comment on the livestream meeting was “FIX THE ROADS,” even as officials weren’t scheduled to discuss the topic.

In response to all the outrage over the current road conditions, the Sun Journal collected some of the questions and comments and showed them to our local public works staff, including Denis D’Auteuil, executive director of Auburn Public Services, Lewiston Public Works Paving Inspector Justin Bisson and Highway Operations Manager Reggie Poussard.

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One big thing we learned is that principal arterials like Center Street are the state’s responsibility to resurface, but overall maintenance falls to the city.

The cities have running lists of roads to be repaved, which are prioritized through a rating system that takes into account several factors, one of which is the number of complaints received about a road.

But, be careful what you wish for: The Maine Department of Transportation is undertaking a paving project on Center Street this summer, along with several Lewiston streets. Main Street in Lewiston is currently scheduled for next summer. Pothole season will apparently shift to construction season before we know it.

A pothole lies in wait on the corner or Maine and Court streets in Auburn on Wednesday. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

SJ: One of the questions repeated a lot was: “How hard can it be to fix potholes?” It’s obviously always a common issue this time of year, but what makes it hard to keep up with?

D’Auteuil: With the wet weather, rain or snow can make it difficult to keep the cold patch during the months where we’re transitioning from winter to spring. The water plus the high volume of traffic can require a pothole to be patched multiple times in a day as the patch gets broken and comes out. Hot top paving material is the best material to use and will last much longer, but it’s not available during the winter months. Now that it’s available we’re already seeing an improvement in the ongoing repairs to potholes.

Bisson: Going back to last summer, really, it’s been wet ever since and I don’t think the ground ever had a chance to dry up. (We had) rain storms during the winter and then a cold spell, followed by more rain. It’s the perfect storm. In dry conditions, temporary repairs are more likely to last and hold up until a permanent repair can be made. Trying to place cold patch or even recycled hot mix on a wet surface is always going to lead to a poor bond, and end up with the material raveling out of the pothole.

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SJ: Do you have an estimate on how many potholes are repaired in a year or how much product is used to fill potholes?

D’Auteuil: We do not track individual number of potholes, but we have used over 166 tons of patch since October 2023.

Poussard: Pothole repairs are done year-round and a thaw in the middle of the winter will almost always cause new potholes to pop up. The pothole crews can easily use up to four tons of cold patch a day during the peak of the spring thaw/mud season.

A man walks down Biron Avenue in Lewiston where a large pothole in the middle of the road is an obstacle for drivers. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

SJ: Do you guys hear a lot from your friends and family, or just the general public, about the state of the roads? Do you hear/see a lot of criticism this time of year? 

Bisson: Everyone’s always kind of looking for an answer of what’s going on. They know what I do and they’re trying to find out when their road is getting paved or when stuff is going to get repaired. With social media you just kind of see it everywhere now. Obviously we see it too when we’re driving around. This year is probably the worst I’ve ever seen.

SJ: In Auburn, we saw a lot of people talking about Center Street. But that’s a state road, correct? Meaning it’s the state’s responsibility to maintain? How does that work?

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D’Auteuil: Yes, Center Street is a state aid road, meaning the city is responsible for maintenance and plowing. Pothole patching also falls under the city’s maintenance responsibilities. (The Maine Department of Transportation) is undertaking a paving project on Center Street this summer.

SJ: In Lewiston, most of the talk was about Main Street. Would you consider that a problem area? Are there other areas that you’d say are difficult?  

Bisson: Any major roadway that sees more than the average traffic volume is going to deteriorate at a faster rate than a residential street. Main Street sees anywhere from 15,000-23,000 cars per day according to the MDOT. Main Street is actually scheduled to be repaved in 2025. Our other problem areas in town are Pleasant Street (Applesass Hill), scheduled to be paved in 2025; Central Avenue by the Bates College football field, scheduled for paving in 2026; Montello Street by Thorncrag, which is to be paved this summer, and Farwell Street, which is scheduled to be paved this summer.

Geary Bissonette from Spencer Group Paving of Turner repairs a section of road Wednesday afternoon on College Street, between Elm and Holland streets in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

SJ: Have recent budgets for road reclamation and resurfacing gone up or down? Do you know what is contributing to that? 

D’Auteuil: Locally we have seen budgets remain relatively flat over the past few years and inflation has caused bids for projects to be higher resulting in a reduction in the amount of projects completed.

Bisson: Since 2017, our paving budget has doubled from $1.7 million to $3.4 million in this current fiscal year. On average, we have been able to pave 7 to 10 miles (14-20 lane miles) per year, and when MDOT paves in Lewiston that will usually add an additional 2 to 3 miles per year as well. In the past three years, our paving budget has stayed relatively stable, while pricing has increased mainly due to unstable petroleum prices as well as added labor costs.

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SJ: One reader said crews spend too much time and money patching roads instead of “redoing the road correctly.” What makes that difficult?

Bisson: At this time of year we’re just trying to keep up with it. We want to fix them in a more permanent way. It’s not beneficial to anybody, whether it’s us, the taxpayer, the motorist, to constantly have to keep driving around them, or have us fix them. We don’t want to go out there month after month. We want to fix them permanently.

SJ: Are there any other solutions or techniques in sight for addressing road conditions, short of moving south? One reader asked, “How has a more permanent solution to these roads not been developed yet?”

Bisson: The Maine Asphalt and Paving Association had its annual conference this month. There’s usually some new techniques discussed that are brought back to Public Works. We’re trying to figure out how to do stuff quickly and temporarily, but also look at long-term solutions.

Vehicles drive down East Avenue on Thursday afternoon past a giant pothole at the entrance of Warren Avenue in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

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