News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, August 21, 2014
Contest names Route 15 Maine’s worst road

by Rich Hewitt

It’s what people have been saying all year. And now it’s official. Sort of.

A Camden man has won the Maine Better Transportation Association’s 2014 Worst Road in Maine Contest with his entry describing a drive from Blue Hill to Stonington on Route 15 last winter.

Gabriel Zacchai, who works for Camden National Bank, described his harrowing trip in his official entry.

“As a 42-year-old native Mainer I can say with absolute certainty that this is THE WORST PAVED ROAD I HAVE EVER TRIED TO MOVE A CAR OVER IN MY LIFE,” he wrote. “I THOUGHT THE FRONT END OF THE CAR WAS GONNA COME OFF!”

Man, is he preaching to the choir.

Folks all along the “slightly paved road from hell” complained all winter about the conditions on Route 15 from Orland to Stonington. Last spring, just as pothole season was ending, local officials convened a Fix 15 symposium to highlight the problems with the road.

That was just about the time that Zacchai was making the trip to Stonington to deliver equipment to the local branch bank there. It was a long and arduous journey, he said.

“I drove over 40 miles at about 5 miles-per-hour with a file cabinet that was determined to jump from the back seat into the front seat with me,” he wrote. “If you live in Stonington, I guess you take a boat.”

So, it’s not just us.

In fact, there were other contest entries that touted Route 15 as the worst road in Maine, according to Jim Haney, MBTA’s president.

“We know this road is bad because we had more than a dozen entries come in for Route 15,” Haney said in a press release. “And Gabriel’s entry really highlights the problems that bad road causes Mainers every day.”

Haney cited research that indicates that, on average, Maine drivers pay about $296 every year in extra vehicle maintenance due to bad roads. He added that Zacchai’s story also emphasizes other impacts of bad roads including lost productivity and safety.

As MBTA’s contest winner, Zacchai received a check for $296, the amount Haney cited as the extra maintenance and repair costs of driving on Maine’s rotten roads.

As intended, the contest draws attention to the state of Maine’s roads and the need for investment in repairs and rebuilding of the state’s roads and bridges. That’s also been the focus of the Fix 15 committee, composed of town officials and other local representatives from towns along the route from Orland to Stonington. At a recent selectmen’s meeting in Stonington, Selectman Ben Barrows and Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris reported on the most recent meeting of that committee, which included two representatives from the Department of Transportation and State Sen. Brian Langley.

Although the process has been very slow, and real improvements to the road are not likely this year, they both indicated that the united front the towns have presented on the issue is being heard as far away as the state house.

“We’re headed in the right direction,” Barrows said.

Billings-Pezaris noted that the MDOT representatives indicated that they may be able to hire independent contractors to do some ditching along the road. Local officials have cited the lack of ditching as among the key causes of the poor road conditions.

The problem, she said, is funding, a fact echoed by MBTA’s Haney. He noted that research shows that Maine’s federal funding for roads has been decreasing as vehicles become more fuel efficient. During that time, he said, Maine has not taken measures to allocate alternative funding for road improvements.

“We are caught in a bad cycle that, at best, means we only have funding to fill the potholes on so many important regional roads like Route 15,” he said. “We have got to make roads a bigger priority because it is hurting our economy.”