The staff at Kim’s Garage in Winslow know all about potholes and the damage they can unleash.

The auto repair shop over the last week has seen more cars with blown tires or other problems than most people see in a year. The shop in recent days has had at least eight cars in need of assistance, said Steven Poulin, a supervisor at the garage.

One day it helped 15 motorists who fell victim to cavernous winter potholes. On another day there were 20 drivers.

It got so bad that one of its service trucks parked at a CVS in Waterville and waited as a stream of vehicles sought help after falling victim to a particularly notorious pothole nearby on Silver Street, at the intersection with Carter Memorial Drive.

“It’s job security for us but too bad for the folks driving,” Poulin said.

While talk of troublesome potholes is nothing new in New England, that doesn’t keep them from causing fresh headaches each winter. Alas, the Maine weather keeps them coming.

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As roads wear down over time, it allows snow and slush to sink into the cracks, and when the temperature drops the water expands, creating holes and further cracking. Then when the ice melts again, it leaves behind the gaps that become potholes. So with every cycle of freeze and thaw, the potholes just keep coming.

It can be difficult for public works crews to keep up.

Winslow Public Works Director Paul Fongemie said his team is regularly out filling holes, but it’s hard to guarantee that a patch of asphalt will stick — it all depends on the weather and the pothole.

Despite a lot of chatter on social platforms about pothole sightings in central Maine, the Winslow department so far hasn’t gotten a lot of calls to report them, Fongemie said. But crews are doing their best to fill them in when they open up, he said.

Potholes on Armory Road in Waterville are patched Wednesday by public works employee David Vigue. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“If there’s potholes it’s not because we are ignoring them. We haven’t gotten to them or aren’t aware of them,” Fongemie said. “We try to hit most of the roads on a regular basis to look for any defects. My plow guys are the same way and they’ll let us know, but as a small crew we are limited by what we can do at one time.”

It’s a similar story in Augusta, where a weekend crew has been scheduled to continue working away at potholes.

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“We’ve had a lot of snow, rain, ice and warm temperatures,” said Lesley Jones, director of Augusta Public Works. “These are ideal conditions for potholes to form.”

Waterville City Manager Steve Daly said the city relies on people to call in large potholes, even though employees try to keep an eye on the areas known to have problems, like Silver Street and West River Road.

“We’re going to pay close attention to where they are and repair them as quickly as we are able,” Daly said. “That doesn’t mean we will repair before people hit them — sometimes we don’t know where they are.”

Anyone taking a look at community Facebook pages can find a plethora of posts warning of particularly bad potholes and comments listing the damage to cars. Poulin said he has seen popped tires, dented rims and wheels pulled out of alignment.

Repairs can easily cost hundreds of dollars — and then you have to go out and face the potholes again.

Poulin said his garage had one driver hit a pothole on Silver Street and pop a tire. The motorist stopped and put on a spare, then drove off and blew that one, too, denting the rim and knocking the car out of alignment.

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Depending on the pothole, motorists may have some recourse with the town they are driving in. Maine law says towns have 24 hours to fill a pothole once they have been notified about it. After that, if the hole has not been filled and a car is damaged, the town is liable for the repairs.

Waterville recently notified some drivers who hit the pothole on Silver Street that they can submit claims that will be forwarded to the city’s insurance carrier to possibly cover the cost of damages, Daly said. There has been a “significant uptick” in people submitting claims since the last snowstorm earlier this month, he said.

The key part of the state law is that a town must have been notified of the pothole. If no one called to report it and the town wasn’t aware, it isn’t liable.

As for how to avoid the problem entirely, be particularly cautious along older roads, slow down and be wary of water.

Potholes were evident along West River Road in Waterville on Wednesday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“Typically you’ll find potholes on the roads that don’t have a new surface and are in need of repaving and rebuilding,” Jones said. “If there’s a puddle of water in the road in a location you don’t expect, quite often there could be a pothole there, especially in the traveling lane.”

Her rule of thumb, she said, is to “slow down, go around, don’t drown,” and to be alert for puddles.

Anyone seeing significant potholes should call that community’s public works department and report them, which could in turn save fellow drivers — and maybe the caller — some future damage and a lot of money.

 

Morning Sentinel reporter Taylor Abbott contributed to this report. 

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