WINDHAM – Town councilors will meet with Maine Department of Transportation officials Tuesday to discuss efforts to make much-needed repairs to River Road.

State officials say work could begin in two years if funding is available. Residents and businesses owners say the road is unsafe and needs to be improved now.

River Road stretches about 8 miles, from the intersection of routes 202 and 4 in Windham to just south of Chute and Depot roads in North Windham.

The road is riddled with ruts and cracks. Large sections of pavement along the shoulders are broken and have collapsed. And the road doesn’t drain properly.

Marty Rooney, director of program development in the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Planning, said funding has been secured for preliminary engineering work.

He said it will cost an estimated $2 million a mile to rebuild the road, and it’s highly unlikely that the project will be fully funded. “The money is not there,” he said. “Sections that are worse than others could be done first.”

The Department of Transportation is using a new approach, called “context-sensitive solutions,” in which its representatives meet with town officials and residents to develop plans for road reconstruction.

State officials will present their plan after the council’s regular meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall. A public meeting on the plan will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. March 15 at the Community Center.

Ernie Martin, the department’s project manager for River Road, wants to create a committee to develop ideas for the corridor. He said the committee would meet over six months to a year before finalizing a plan. Then, the project could be funded as a candidate for the 2012 work plan, he said.

But many Windham residents have grown tired of waiting. The road was scheduled for reconstruction in 2005, but the project was cut after $130 million in federal funding was slashed from the state budget.

River Road carries about 7,000 vehicles a day on its northern section and 10,000 on its southern section, to Westbrook. Mark Latti, spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said there were 216 accidents on River Road from 2006 to 2008, one of them fatal.

Joe Ciccone of Evergreen Lane has had a few close calls. He said one of the biggest problems is drivers crossing the center line to avoid broken pavement on the shoulders.

“I have been run off the road several times,” Ciccone said. “It’s just a matter of time before someone gets me. It’s pretty scary.”

Cheryl Page, who lives on Cardinal Lane, off River Road, circulated a petition last year asking the state to fix the road. Nearly 900 people signed it.

“It’s a nightmare to drive,” Page said. “The road just pulls you because it’s so crowned. You have to hold onto the steering wheel tight because you are fighting with it.”

Allen Libby, co-owner of New England Diesel Services, an automotive repair business on River Road, said many customers come in with popped tires and broken components in their cars’ suspension systems.

He said the road also hurts his business, because recently posted weight limits prevent heavy trucks from coming in for service.

“It’s worse than terrible,” Libby said. “I’m not in the business, but I don’t know how it can be deemed safe now, let alone two years from now.”

State officials say it’s difficult to predict how much transportation money the state will have in two to four years.

Rooney said the federal highway trust fund — the source of most of the state’s capital funds — is projected to be in bankruptcy in the next two to four years.

On the state level, the highway fund is tied to the gas tax. He said that if people drive less and the number of tourists declines, there will be a reduction in state transportation funding. River Road is among 1,500 miles of major collector roads that are considered in unsatisfactory condition.

“We fund 40 to 45 miles over a two-year period,” Rooney said. “River Road could take as much as 20 percent of our highway reconstruction funding statewide. I echo the voices of the people that say the road is in need of repair. With the funding constraints, it’s hard to do them all.”

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: [email protected]