With stimulus cash coming, DOT unveils project list

Posted Feb. 24, 2009, at 8:44 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 27, 2011, at 9:02 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — State transportation officials on Tuesday unveiled the list of road and bridge projects that will receive a portion of the estimated $162 million in federal stimulus money coming to Maine.

The projects are located throughout the state and range from a $35,000 paving job in Pittsfield to the $35 million resurfacing of the northbound lanes of Interstate 295.

One of the key factors that the Maine Department of Transportation considered was how quickly work could begin on the projects, officials said Tuesday.

But DOT Commissioner David Cole cautioned that the stimulus money will only go so far. Maine faces an estimated $3 billion funding gap for highway projects over the next decade.

“Any perception that the stimulus package is going to take care of our long-term needs is mistaken,” Cole told members of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee during a briefing. “But it will be well used.”

A partial list of local projects expected to receive significant funding include:

— $9.25 million for reconstruction of nearly 3 miles of Route 1A in Ellsworth.

— $5 million to rehabilitate the Sedgwick Bridge between Deer Isle and Sedgwick.

— More than $14 million to resurface portions of Interstate 95’s southbound lanes between T2 R9 and Old Town.

— $3.2 million to resurface an 11-mile stretch of Route 189 in Lubec.

Cole said the state also plans to seek $6 million from the Coast Guard to remove the Waldo-Hancock Bridge, which was closed with the opening of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge near Prospect. That money would come from $142 million in stimulus revenue given to the Coast Guard to remove waterway obstructions.

Officials predict that the roughly $131 million in highway and bridge funds could help create 3,500 jobs, based on a federal formula. All contractors will have to report how many employees they hired to complete the work. That information will be posted on a state Web site meant to ensure transparency in the use of all stimulus funds in Maine.

The state has set a goal of completing all of the projects in the coming construction season.

The I-295 project is, by far, the largest in the package unveiled Tuesday.

Anticipating some public kickback to the costly project, DOT officials said that while the heavily used highway appears smooth in some areas, it is quickly deteriorating underneath due to a chemical reaction that causes cracks in the concrete. Repairing the road now will avoid a much more costly fix later, they said.

Jonathan McDade, division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration’s Maine division, also called the I-295 repairs “critical” due to the highway’s importance to Maine’s economy. McDade said he hopes the money will be available next week to begin the project, which already has been put out to bid.

While stimulus projects are spread throughout the state, southern and central Maine will receive the largest share of the money. That fact caught the attention of committee member Rep. Charles Ken Theriault, D-Madawaska.

“I just don’t see a project on the list here that includes Aroostook County, and that is a little bit disturbing,” Theriault said.

Cole responded that the I-95 improvements extend into The County and that $1.5 million has been earmarked for resurfacing Van Buren Road near Hamlin. But Cole also pointed out that numerous other projects — including redoing Route 1 in Fort Kent and the Wallagrass section of Route 11 — are included in the department’s traditional road repair budget for this year.

DOT officials culled the list of projects to receive stimulus funding from existing transportation and State Planning Office planning documents. To be eligible, projects must have had at least some design work completed.

The DOT’s Kat Fuller, who helped put together the list of projects to receive stimulus funding, said they were also required to give priority to projects in economically distressed areas.

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