Sunday, February 19, 2012

Anatomy Of A Pothole

Spring has made a cameo appearance here in Mid-Coast Maine. The road I live on, East Waldo Road, is infamous for being in a continual state of disrepair. This is made worse in mud season and now, in late February, the thing is a virtual trap for motor vehicles.

Of course ruts occur when the ground thaws and vehicles continually roll over soft portions of a road. But it is a demonstrable fact that some unpaved roads don’t succumb to mud season in a big way, while others seem to only have waited for the occasion to arise before turning to mush.

The reason for this disparity has to do with content. Gravel roads mean just that…gravel. But some municipalities, the Town of Waldo in particular, cut corners and instead of laying true gravel on roads, use a mixture of sand and silt…mud, in other words. This is cheaper than good gravel. In the case of Waldo, however, the taxpayers do not pay less for low-quality fill, but instead are assessed an amount for road upkeep commensurate with the introduction of actual gravel.

This situation leads to not only ruts, but also truck-swallowing ruts. As of now, East Waldo Road is nearly impassable. Unfortunately for those who live here, it is not a question of “Shall we drive on the road?” but rather, “Will we make it in and out one more time?”

This next bit of information I will entitle, “Anatomy Of A Pothole,” with due apologies to Robert Traver, author of Anatomy Of A Murder.”

East Waldo Road, in addition to being composed of substandard material, does not benefit from competency in the grading department, either. To grade a road lightly means to brush the tops of potholes, pushing surface duff and dirt around so that in the end, the thing appears fairly smooth. This is the accepted mode of upkeep for East Waldo Road. But Band-Aid remedies are sometimes worse than doing nothing.

In the case of Town of Waldo, the road gets graded approximately twice each year. And for 35 years or more that I am aware of, the grader operator pays close attention to the weather report, ear to the radio speaker. When conditions are ideal, by that I mean that torrential rain is predicted for the next day, than the road gets its “grading.” The next day, and this happens 99 percent of the time, heavy rains totally undo any good that the grader may have accomplished and turns the road into a minefield of potholes.

In order to conquer a pothole, the grader blade must, by virtue of succeeding slow passes, pass beneath the hole. This eliminates the pothole. Brushing the top of the hole with the grader blade only tends to exacerbate the situation, particularly when driving rain follows the grading, as it always does in Waldo.

So drivers on potholed roads such as East Waldo Road, must weave their way from one side to the other, often compelled to patiently wait while a vehicle from “away” or perhaps, from out-of-town, whose uninformed and innocent driver insists upon remaining on the right-hand side at all times despite potholes that could engulf a hippo, slowly wend their way past.

The reason for this need to pick a path through the pothole minefield is based upon the way tires interact with potholes. As a rolling, spinning tire meets a pothole, it immediately slips just a wee bit, carving a sharp lip on the leading edge of the hole. Subsequent vehicles continue to worsen the situation.

Fortunately, the far side of the pothole becomes rather smooth-sided. So driving on what most people would consider the wrong side of the road, becomes the only viable alternative to trading the old sedan for a Humvee, tank, or other such vehicle that could stand up to such trying conditions.

All this may sound tongue-in-cheek, or purposely humorous. It is not intended to be, however. Instead, it is a real-life vignette of what people on East Waldo Road must contend with.

All gravel and dirt roads are subject to wear, of course. We in Waldo are not the only ones to have to deal with inhospitable conditions. But our road is among the very worst in the State of Maine, and that is due to municipal malfeasance.

To wit, Northern Maine has more gravel roads, owned and maintained by paper companies, than the rest of the state combined. And guess what? These roads are always in a far better state of repair than many roads that taxpayers must cough up hard-earned dollars for. Private industry takes care of their roads, for sure. The same cannot always be said for municipalities.

I would pit the worst paper company road in Maine against East Waldo Road, regarding neglect and bad going. And I make no doubt that East Waldo Road would win.

So you folks with four-wheel drive vehicles who like to go “mud-running,” here’s a chance to try your stuff. Visit East Waldo Road and have a go at one of the worst-kept, taxpayer-funded roads in the State of Maine. And if you get stuck too deep so that a winch can’t pull you out, just call the Town of Waldo (207-342-5400)for help.

For those looking for fun and adventure, Look for East Waldo Road on DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 14, A-4.

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