Picking up a group of daycare kindergarteners Monday from the end of Haven Road turned into Mission Impossible for Patrice-Foley Olsen, as she tried tried to negotiate police cruisers blocking the snowy road because of three accidents.

Two motorists had slid into ditches, and another had collided with a tree. Olsen had to fetch the kindergarteners because the road was too slippery for buses to make it to Duck Pond Duckling Daycare.

“It was like a combat zone,” said Olsen, a mother of three and the owner of the daycare. “It was ridiculous. I really don’t think the town is taking the conditions of the road seriously.”

The return of winter weather this week put pressure on Windham’s Public Works crews and local police as they contended with slick snow, school bus trouble, and an unusually high number of accidents. The resulting mess has left some questioning whether the town should be spending more on road maintenance.

“The roads were absolutely treacherous, and people were driving too fast for the weather,” said Lt. Dave DeGruchy.

Local police responded to 36 accidents in Windham – nosedives in the ditches, fender-benders and other bad weather accidents – but only “minor injuries” occurred. At one point, all of the department’s police officers were out on the road responding to calls, including Chief Rick Lewsen.

Local towing company Atlas Auto Body reports that cars were slipping off the road everywhere during Monday’s storm with accumulation of 5 to 6 inches. Their wrecking trucks were out towing from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., dragging in a total of 50 to 60 vehicles.

Glidden, a Gorham excavating company responsible for winter maintenance on 20 miles of road in Windham, did plow Haven Road, but didn’t sand the road until later that afternoon, according to Olsen.

While Olsen’s daycare kids weren’t fazed by all the commotion, she now worries for their safety on school buses during snowy weather. She wishes Public Works could communicate with the school bus drivers to make sure an early release from school isn’t putting kids in danger.

Public Works Director Doug Fortier, who received numerous complaints Monday, does take residents’ concerns seriously, but says his resources are “strapped.”

The reality of the situation, he said, is with the limited number of trucks on the road and 130 miles of road to cover in Windham, major arterials – like Route 302, 202 and River Road – get handled first. Secondary roadways such as residential neighborhoods sometimes have to wait.

And Monday’s storm was “no different than any other snow storm we’ve had,” Fortier said. From 7 a.m. until the early evening, his crews were out salting, sanding and plowing the roads. Their routes take roughly three hours to complete, but unforeseen circumstances, such as having to tow out a school bus that got stuck Monday on Haskell Road, can delay services.

“Are we going to have a truck for every road? No,” Fortier said. “Could we use more trucks and more manpower? Sure, but it all costs money.”

Colby Drive resident Martin Shuer made a plea to the town council on Tuesday to invest more money in winter road maintenance. He said the town has grown too large for Public Works to handle the number of new roads created each year and advocated for more “manpower” and more attention to neighborhoods off the major arterials.

“Most of the people don’t live on 302, 202 or River Road. They live in neighborhoods,” he said. “This is Maine. We can’t expect Mother Nature to cooperate.”

He was particularly concerned that a “moderate storm,” like Monday’s snowstorm, put such stress on the system. Shuer said he’s had recurrent problems with a lack of road maintenance in his neighborhood and three years ago, when a relative needed to be rushed to the hospital, Public Works had to plow an emergency path to Shuer’s house because the neighborhood hadn’t been plowed.

Councilor Michael Shaugnessy concurred with Shuer’s sentiment. “There is not enough manpower or equipment to address the growing need,” he said.

No accidents were reported during Wednesday’s snowfall, with less accumulation due to warmer temperatures.

As the weird winter weather rolls on, Windham officials advise motorists to slow down even on plowed roads during the inclement weather for, as Fortier says, good road conditions can “turn bad just over the rise.”


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