June 19, 2018
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Why Bangor’s streets have so many potholes this winter

By Alex Acquisto, BDN Staff
Updated:

Recurring freezing and thawing conditions this season have led to a greater number of potholes, frost heaves and other signs of road deterioration, state and local officials said.

Officials blame road conditions on this year’s premature spring-like conditions, which were bookended by freezing temperatures. The thaw-freeze cycle causes the ground to swell and contract, forming frost heaves and cavities under the surface that eventually collapse into potholes.

Those weather conditions also weaken and crack asphalt, especially on aged roads that don’t drain well, said Brian Burne, a highway maintenance engineer for the Maine Department of Transportation.

“As the ground starts to thaw, you get all this moisture trapped in ice. But that moisture can’t drain” because of the ground frost is still so deep, he said. “When you have a saturated soil, the soil has no strength, and that’s what causes potholes.”

City workers have seen more potholes in Bangor this winter than is typical, said Bangor Public Works Director Dana Wardwell. Some areas that are particularly pockmarked, like Union Street, between Interstate 95 and Hammond Street, are due to be repaved this summer with state money, he said.

“We’ve got an awful lot of groundwater,” said Wardwell. “With the water table high, and water oozing out of the ground in some places, you’re going to have more potholes.”

The MDOT has spent about $880,000 on roadway surface repairs since Nov. 1, compared with approximately $820,000 at the same time last year, Burne said. Whether that figure continues to rise during the last five weeks of winter depends on how many more freeze-thaw cycles the state will endure, he said.

“The roads this year are horrible,” said Orrington resident Terry Freeman, who cracked the rear suspension in his Hummer earlier this month when he hit a pothole near the Brewer-Orrington town line. “I’ve been in Maine my entire life. This year they are bad,” he said.

To help preserve older roads, the MDOT publishes a list of “posted roads” that are particularly susceptible to damage during freeze-thaw cycles. Vehicle weight restrictions are often enforced on these roads to minimize damage, Burne said.

Potholes in Bangor are filled in with hot patch, a temporary fix that is similar to asphalt, Wardwell said. His department budgets for between 18,000 and 20,000 tons of hot patch — which costs about $75 per ton — at the beginning of each annual budget cycle. It lasts the entire year, he said.

Anyone can notify Bangor Public Works of a pothole, by calling the department, or by downloading the “Go Bangor” app and filing a service request. When a request is filed, Wardwell said his crews are dispatched to fix it as quickly as possible.

“Chances are it’ll be patched before the end of the day,” he said.

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