Maria Fuentes doesn’t want to read about roads that are bad, she wants roads that are downright ugly: pothole-festooned nightmares that wreck vehicle suspensions and cause motorists to yelp in pain when the chasms in the byways swallow wheels.
Her Maine Better Transportation Association will hold its third-annual “Worst Roads in Maine” essay contest this month in search of vivid descriptions of Maine’s most damaged or neglected arteries and how their disarray disrupts the lives of those who use them, she said Sunday.
“It is a way to raise awareness that roads are something that we take for granted that we all need to use on a daily basis,” said Fuentes, executive director of the 700-member road maintenance advocacy group. “We hope that people will take a commute to work and think about the roads that they use every day.”
The contest might seem like an opportunity to make fun of road disrepair, but last year’s contest winner, Carol Kelley of Waldo, told a grim and moving story of how Routes 131, 137 and 141 in Waldo County were painfully rough for her son Mark, who had a spinal rod in his back.
Kelley’s description of how she uses Mark’s shouts of pain as a gauge of a road condition, and the $1,100 they had to pay to add special springs to her van, won her the contest’s $250 prize in 2011, association President Randy Mace said.
The $250 check equals the average amount of extra funding Mainers have to pay to repair their vehicles from road damage, Fuentes said.
“We know that when we don’t take care of our roads there is a human cost and it hits our pocketbooks as well,” Fuentes said.
The contest, Fuentes said, is not intended to mock the Maine Department of Transportation, federal transportation agencies or more local government efforts to maintain roads. If anything, Fuentes gives DOT good grades for its efforts to hold roads together in the face of chronic underfunding.
“We just don’t have the money to fix the roads that we should,” Fuentes said.
The federal government last increased states’ revenue for road repair in 1993, and the work done then has become worn. Maine suffers particularly harshly among New England states with its long and unforgiving winters, its great size and sparse population, Fuentes said.
“Maine gets the same amount of federal funding dollars that New Hampshire does even though we have twice the number of miles of road to take care of,” Fuentes said.
An independent agency last year ranked Maine’s rural roads and bridges 14th and 12th worst in the nation, said Fuentes, whose organization recently spoke in favor of creating a new east-west highway in Maine.
Anyone interested in entering an essay into the contest should visit the group’s websites, FixMaineRoads.org or mbtaonline.org. Entries must include a photograph and a brief description of the road. Entries are due May 16, Fuentes said.