ELLSWORTH — A protective road sealant that may have contributed to several crashes around the state, including in Bar Harbor, was not used in roadwork that recently took place on the Bangor Road, said an official from the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT).
Public Information Officer Paul Merrill said in an email that the “fog sealant” had not been used for the work that recently took place on the Bangor Road, Route 1A, which has seen an unusually high number of fatal crashes in recent months.
The department announced this week that it would stop using the sealant after questions arose about whether its use contributed to a crash on Route 225 in Rome on Sept. 14, according to reporting in The Morning Sentinel.
Merrill told The Sentinel that “We’re trying to figure this out and thought it was prudent to tap the brakes” on using the sealant. “Out of an abundance of caution, it’s a statewide pause.”
Fog seals, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, get their name from their application, which involves spraying a thin layer of asphalt emulsion, a liquid containing asphalt, water and a mixing agent.
“Fogging,” as it’s known, is used to extend the life of asphalt: it helps seal narrow cracks, restores some flexibility and helps protect pavement from oxidation, restoring its dark color and protecting the underlying structure.
In Bar Harbor, fogging is thought to have contributed to several crashes on Route 3 last fall, including one in which a dump truck lost control and spun rear-first into a garage, according to reporting in the Mount Desert Islander.
The truck driver, Guy Edwards of Waltham, said he tapped the brakes but the truck “took off like I was on ice.”
In that case, DOT project engineer Dale Mayo told the paper, one of the nights the sealant was applied was humid, which delayed the drying of the sealant and left the road slippery.
“Normally it isn’t a problem for that long,” Mayo said. The slipperiness “lasted longer than it was expected to.”
The town sanded the road at DOT’s request, which Mayo said helps the surface treatment wear faster and become less slick. He also said the department would alter the composition of the asphalt used in the Route 3 project.
In Rome, three cars went off the road after the sealant was applied to a certain area of Route 225, all in wet conditions, according to The Sentinel.
Department spokesman Merrill told the paper that he didn’t know how many other roads the department had used fog sealant on statewide, but that it was difficult to compare fogging in roads across the state because some jobs are done by DOT crews and some are done by outside contractors.
“It’s not apples to apples, like this crew also did XYZ (project),” said Merrill. He added that it’s not certain whether the road surface contributed to the crash in Rome which prompted the state’s review. In that crash, a truck went off the side of the road and rolled, hitting a tree.
The driver had reportedly been traveling faster than the posted speed limit. But in an accident report, State Trooper Patrick Pescitelli reportedly noted the “freshly paved” road and wrote that “while on scene I observed two vehicles struggle to maintain traction while negotiating the same curve.” At least two other crashes have occurred on that stretch in recent months.
In the Route 225 case, said Merrill, it was possible that crews had applied the sealant too quickly or the mixture may not have been correct or absorbed enough. The road was paved last year, and newer pavement doesn’t absorb as much sealant as older pavement per square yard.
The sealant was not used in road work on the Bangor Road, where there have been four fatal crashes on the stretch between the intersection with Route 179 and Cove Way since April, according to the DOT’s public query tool and reporting in The American.
In the decade prior, between 2008 and 2018, there were only two fatal crashes on the same stretch of road, according to the DOT. On average, more than 10,000 vehicles per day travel the road.
In Ellsworth, police have stepped up speeding enforcement details in the area in recent months.