State's Route 15 Wins Dubious Honor: 'Worst Road in Maine'

Aug 19, 2014

A view of the winning road, Route 15, in the Camden area.
Credit Courtesy Maine Better Transportation Association

CAMDEN, Maine - The winner of the "Worst Road in Maine Contest" has been announced. The dubious honor, according to the Maine Better Transportation Association, is Route 15, and in particular, a 23-mile stretch that runs between Blue Hill and Stonington.

"I am still amazed that the front end didn't come off going down that road," says Camden resident Gabriel Zacchai. Zacchai witnessed the sad state of Route 15 first hand in a company car which was retired shortly afterwards. "That car was on its last legs as it was, and I'm pretty sure that stretch of road took what it had left of it."

Gabriel Zacchai, of Camden, who submitted the winning entry.
Credit Courtesy Maine Better Transportation Association

Zacchai - who works in facilities for a local bank - wrote the winning entry in this year's contest for his description of a trip he made down that stretch of the road earlier this year, at the height of the so-called "pot hole season" in early spring, when the repeated thawing and re-freezing of ice wreaks havoc on pavement.

Gabriel Zacchai: "There's only way to Stonington and it ought to take about 45 minutes, and it took me almost one-and-a-half hours driving between five and 10 miles per hour, and the filing cabinet in back of the car nearly ended up in my lap three or four different times. I had a UPS guy in front of me and he just gave up, I think, half way. He just pulled over and I didn't see him deliver so I hope he made it."

Tom Porter: "And this is not a regular journey for you is it? It makes you think about what life must be like for people who use that road every day, and, more to the point, what state their cars are in."

Gabriel Zacchai: 'Yeah, that makes me wonder if maybe they get everything delivered by boat, because there's no way you could travel that road and maintain a vehicle for more than a week."

Tom Porter: "Mr. Zacchai, as well as working in a bank you're also a musician - you've been writing and performing original songs for more than 20 years. Do you think you might write a song about Route 15?"

Gabriel Zacchai: "I haven't, but I've got enough material at this point for a darned good one."

"We got so many entries for all over the state, but one that kept coming up was Route 15 - it was a pretty clear-cut winner," says Maria Fuentes, executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association, a nonprofit that advocates for improvements to Maine roads and bridges. The aim of the contest, she says, is to highlight the worsening problem of under investment.

"We tend to hear from people who think their roads are the absolute worst roads, and we're trying to show there's a lot of areas in Maine that need to invest more in their transportation system," Fuentes says.

The problem is that existing funding - most of which is provided federally - is not enough to meet needs. Ted Talbot is spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, which oversees 8,500 miles of roads and 2,700 bridges.

"We're trying to stretch the available resources that we do have, statewide," Talbot says. "And after the type of winter that we had, we not only lost our bad roads, we lost a lot of our good roads, and that presents some major challenges."

The annual shortfall, says Talbot, is about $110 million.  That's because the Highway Trust Fund, which is financed by a federal gasoline tax, does not earn enough to pay for all the projects that need to be done. The MBTA's Maria Fuentes says a large part of that is due to the fact that the gas tax has remained the same for 21 years, while cars have become more fuel efficient - meaning less revenue.

What's more, federal funds are awarded to states on a population basis, meaning sparsely populated, geographically large states like Maine are at a disadvantage from the outset. She says part of any long-term solution needs to consider raising the gasoline tax to provide the necessary funds.

As for 2014 Worst Roads Contest winner Gabriel Zacchai, he at least has the consolation of $296 in prize money - that's the additional average cost Maine drivers are estimated to spend on vehicle repairs every year because of the poor state of the roads.