Mike Walsh, front, and Richard Leon, members of the Brunswick Public Works Department, do their best to plug several potholes along McKeen Street March 15 with cold patch on a day it rained, causing water to cover the holes. (Darcie Moore / The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — Lisbon’s road crews are using up to 2 tons of pothole filler by lunchtime just trying to keep up with the potholes springing up. Thanks to a wet winter, this year’s potholes are the worst that local public works directors can recall.

Topsham Public Works Director Dennis Cox said he’s doubled his spending on cold patch, which tends to be a temporary fix road crews use in the winter when the sturdier hot top isn’t available. 

Demand for the cold patch is up this spring, as Crooker Construction, which supplies several communities, ran out of the material Wednesday for the first time ever, according to receptionist Melanie Abrams. The company aims to have more made by Monday. Cold patch is selling for $130 a ton.

“We’ve never gone through it as fast as we did this year,” Abrams said. “We produced a couple hundred tons of it.”

Lisbon Public Works Director Randy Cyr said Wednesday his crew has laid down 9 tons of cold patch so far, and the numbers are increasing. The town is getting 10 to 30 calls a day from people complaining about specific potholes or road conditions in general. In an ideal world, he said he’d like to have a crew of 30 instead of eight tackling the problem.

Public works directors say the roads are in such bad shape because of the large amount of rainfall followed by freezing temperatures. When the temperature drops, water that has seeped into cracks in the pavement expand, breaking apart the road’s surface.

Cox said the ground is saturated, and water is now sitting in ditches and seeping through holes into the road base, freezing and causing frost heaves.

Cold patch is a temporary fix, but is all that is available during colder months.

The material is easily dislodged by the tires of passing vehicles.  Both Cox and Brunswick Assistant Town Manager Ryan Leighton said the extra use of cold patch this spring will mean more cleanup and heavier use of street sweepers as the weather warms.

In Brunswick, Leighton said the potholes are worse in some areas like at intersections and along McKeen, Stanwood and Weymouth streets.

In Lisbon, Cyr said he’s “lost count of how many potholes we’ve fixed.”

“It’s just been a bad year,” Cyr said, “but moving forward, we’re not going to have projects that go that late into the fall so this won’t happen again.”

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Bowdoinham Town Manager Bill Post. “I’ve been doing this a long time and this is the worst we’ve seen it.”

Post, who also serves as the town’s road commissioner, said the town’s gravel roads –potholed, rutted, washboarded and muddy — are the biggest headache. 

“They’re always an issue this time of year but this year, they’re the worst that I have ever seen and we’re constantly putting materials down,” Post said. “Over the last week we’ve worked on three or four gravel roads and have been spreading gravel and grating and trying to get the water moving. It’s just crazy the amount of water we’ve had, and the freezing and thawing cycle.”

AAA image

A 2017 AAA survey found that pothole damage had cost U.S. drivers $15 billion in vehicle repairs over the previous five years, or approximately $3 billion annually. Those repairs range from patching tires and bent wheel rims to blown suspensions.

On average, American drivers report paying $300 to repair pothole-related vehicle damage, according to AAA. Those whose vehicles suffered this type of damage had it happen frequently, with an average of three times in five years.

AAA urges drivers to make sure their tires are properly inflated and aren’t too worn so that they provide a cushion between the pothole and the vehicle.

If you see a pothole coming that you can’t avoid, try to slow down, release the brakes and straighten the wheels before you hit. Consider other traffic and road conditions before trying to dodge an oncoming crater.

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