Additional damage, sinking, and cracks to the River Road in Caribou may lead city officials to shut down the roadway to traffic once again. New cracks on the east side of the road also could delay the process of fixing the road, which was originally planned for this summer. Credit: Chris Bouchard | Aroostook Republican

CARIBOU, Maine — City officials may need to close off a severely damaged portion of the River Road in Caribou again due to additional cracks and drops in the pavement, according to Caribou City Manager Dennis Marker.

Officials shut down the road last spring when rain and runoff damage compromised the safety of motorists. The city also subsequently bought properties along the damaged portion of the road in an effort to relocate affected homeowners and to acquire room to move that section of roadway away from the Aroostook River.

They reopened the River Road to one-lane traffic in November after public works crews filled in the sunken portion of the road and added jersey barriers.

Councilors also chose to pursue the least expensive of four options provided by local firm DuBois and King for fixing the road. At a cost of $1.2 million, that option involved demolishing three of the homes purchased by the city and moving the road east of its current location.

Now, in addition to possibly closing the road, some of the newfound damage may require a more expensive approach to repair, Marker told city councilors during their April 22 meeting.

At this point, the city manager said, the road has been “narrowed even further,” though it remains a passable one lane road with safety indicators.

Public Works Director Dave Ouellette told councilors that it is “important to understand that when the road was closed last year, the hole was 6 feet deep, and there was nothing to hold up what was there.”

When it was reopened last fall, Ouellette said he and city employees put approximately 500 yards of material to hold the road back up, and they kept an eye on it throughout the winter.

“We placed the jersey barriers on the dirt [used to fill the hole caused by runoff damage] on purpose,” Ouellette said, “so that we could see movement. When I went out this morning, I saw that two of the jersey barriers had fallen over.”

At this point, the public works director said he personally does not believe traffic is in any danger, adding that he goes out to the spot twice a day to look for additional movement, cracks or potential dangers.

“Do we close the road now,” councilor Thomas Ayer asked, “or do we wait until someone slides off a hill?”

“We’re not close to that point,” Ouellette said, “although anything could happen. If you want to use my judgement, I think it could go for a while, and I think we could get through the wet season. But, if you want, I will close the road tomorrow morning. I’m sure residents who live on that road will appreciate it staying open.”

Councilor Joan Theriault, who lives on the road, said she does “appreciate that it is staying open,” adding that she feels comfortable driving on the road.

Councilor Ayer said that while he “fully trusts” Ouellette’s judgement, he’s concerned about the “worst case scenario.”

Marker also told councilors that the damage is now appearing on the “east side of the road,” which may require officials to go back to the drawing board for repairs.

Considering the new developments, Ayer asked if the road would realistically be fixed this year. Ouellette said that depends on what the engineer from DuBois and King, who is visiting the site April 24, has to say. If there is minimal subsurface damage, bids for the road work could be submitted to the city within three weeks, the public works director said.

“Or,” Ouellette said, “[the engineer] could say, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s not good.’ And if that’s the case, then I’m with you. This won’t get done this summer.”

“I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news,” Ouellette said, “but we should be thankful we saw this now.”

This story originally appeared on The County.