When it launched its first-ever “Worst Road in Maine” contest in 2010, the Maine Better Transportation Association got about 60 entries.

And this time around?

“We got more than double,” said Maria Fuentes, the association’s executive director, in an interview Tuesday.

What’s more, she said, “it was a much harder contest to judge.”

We’ll have to wait another day or two to hear which crumbling Maine thoroughfare replaces Route 219 in Turner – the 2010 “winner” – as the stretch of blacktop (or lack thereof) where you’re most likely to lose a tire (or a filling) should you dare use it to get there from here.

But this verdict is already in: The Maine Better Transportation Association, which for 72 years has served as a watchdog over the upkeep of the state’s roads and bridges, says we’re stuck in reverse.

“This biennium could very well go down in history as having the worst capital investment forecast in the history of the Highway Fund,” Fuentes said in a recent news release, citing a $230 million decrease for capital improvements to roads and bridges in the two-year state budget approved in June by the Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage.

Add to that Legislature’s decision (per the governor’s request) to forgo a transportation bond and scuttle an automatic increase in the state fuel tax and, as Fuentes put it this week, “We’re backsliding. It’s going to be more difficult to catch up.”

Which brings us back to the contest.

Last year’s winner of a $250 gift certificate for road-induced car repairs was Martha Jordan of Turner, who was heading home with her husband one night in March 2010 when he veered a bit to dodge the potholes they already knew about on Route 219.

“And then, wham!” Jordan recalled Tuesday. “To this day, I’m amazed that our air bags did not go off.”

A large, virtually invisible pothole smack dab in the center of the road “literally swallowed the (right front) tire and wheel,” said Jordan.

The tire was just about flat by the time their 2007 Chevy Impala limped into the driveway. The repair bill – tire, wheel, various underpinnings – topped out at about $1,000.

Now for a little good news.

According to Mark Latti, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, six of the eight worst roads selected as finalists in last year’s contest, “we’ve either done, are doing or are planning to do in our current capital work plan.”

(Much to the relief of Martha Jordan, who said she and her husband “looked at each other and said, ‘Wow!’ ” when they traversed a recently rebuilt Route 219 just a few days ago.)

That said, Latti conceded, “we’re being asked to do more with less.”

The transportation department’s $637 million highway plan for the two-year period that began July 1 includes an increase in what the department calls “light capital paving,” Latti noted. Known less reverentially in the trade as “skinny mix,” it essentially means resurfacing an aging road rather than reconstructing it from the ground up.

“We all understand that it’s a difficult economic time,” Latti said. “State government is cutting back just like Maine families are cutting back.”

No surprise, then, that 120 motorists took the time this year to add their highway horror stories to the worst-road entries for 2011.

Some complaints, said Fuentes, were too far-reaching to merit serious consideration: “Any road in my town should be in this contest,” for example, didn’t make the cut.

“We need a description,” noted Fuentes. “And we also need some sort of visual.”

Which, in many cases, they got.

One contestant sent a picture of a pothole with an Oakhurst milk container in the middle. “To show how deep it was,” explained Fuentes.

Another, she said, submitted a shot of a pothole “with a little tree growing out of it.”

“I don’t know if people just feel roads are a lot worse this year or if … the public psyche is just more frustrated,” Fuentes said. “But we got way more entries than we anticipated – and we got some really, really good nominations.”

Not exactly music to Latti’s ears.

“We just don’t have the funding to do all the work we’d love to do,” he said. “That’s why we prioritize.”

Meanwhile, the rut deepens: According to the transportation association, 34 percent of Maine’s bridges now are considered structurally “deficient” and 26 percent of our 8,500 miles of state highway have “poor pavement.”

How poor? The envelope please …

“We’re certainly aware of it,” Latti said. “You just kind of shrug it off and keep moving forward.”

And now more than ever, you watch out for milk cartons.

FOOTNOTE: In Friday’s column about the new math curriculum in Portland’s middle schools, I gave the impression that members of the Parent Teacher Organization at Longfellow Elementary School don’t much care about that school’s curriculum. They care a lot – and I apologize for implying otherwise.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]