St. John Valley ports of entry to be replaced

Posted Aug. 11, 2010, at 6:56 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:53 a.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — In the post-9-11 world, three ports of entry in the St. John Valley do not meet the security, structural or commercial needs for cross-border traffic, according to federal and state officials.

With federal stimulus and bridge funds, nearly $100 million is targeted at bridge and facility replacements in Fort Kent, Madawaska and Van Buren.

The three towns are major crossing points into Canada through New Brunswick.

At a business breakfast Wednesday morning hosted by Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Nathan Howard, a planner with the Maine Department of Transportation, outlined plans to replace the existing international bridge in Fort Kent and the port of entry facilities in Madawaska and Van Buren.

“The ports of entry [in Madawaska and Van Buren] are undersized, obsolete and do not meet post-9-11 security standards,” Howard said by telecommunications link from his office in Belfast. “There is also a need for reconstruction for improved commercial traffic.”

The two ports are designated as “permit port facilities,” which Howard said means truck and commercial traffic crossing into the United States must carry specialized permits that certify the contents.

“Getting those permits can be an expensive and onerous process,” he said.

With the new structures and corresponding increased security measures, the need for the permits will be eliminated, Howard said.

“Meeting those security standards will require the facilities have a much larger footprint,” Howard said.

The proposed Van Buren facility replaces buildings damaged in the May 2008 St. John River flooding.

“Customs and Border Protection currently conducts their operations from temporary trailers,” Howard said. “These temporary trailers will continue to be used until the new facility is built.”

The new 44,000-square-foot building will occupy a space along the river between Bridge Street and the intersection of Routes 1 and 1A.

Construction of the structure with an estimated price tag of $33 million is expected to begin next spring, Howard said.

Currently in the design phase, the Madawaska port of entry will be relocated on an industrial piece of land 1,600 feet upriver from the existing site.

An elevated roadway will direct traffic from the bridge along Mill Street to the proposed 29,000-square-foot, $50 million facility which Howard said will include separate traffic lanes for commercial and passenger vehicles and buses; warehouses; and a shooting range.

In Madawaska and Van Buren the streets now leading to the international bridges will become dead ends.

Designs for the new international bridge in Fort Kent are near completion, with construction bids slated to go out next year. The project is scheduled for completion in 2013.

The new bridge, Howard said, will be wider and higher than the current structure that was built in 1929. The new one, which carries a price tag of $13 million, would be located about 15 feet downriver, requiring the acquisition and demolition of Fort Kent Masonic Lodge.

At the same time, Maine DOT is in the middle of a St. John Valley Border Crossing Feasibility Study in accordance with 2008 legislation requiring the agency to explore the possibility of a fourth St. John Valley port of entry in the St. David village area of Madawaska.

The results of that study, expected this fall, include an evaluation of how the planned improvements at the Madawaska and Van Buren sites will affect the flow of commercial traffic between Maine and New Brunswick and whether there is sufficient need for a new commercial border crossing in the upper St. John Valley.

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