CARIBOU, Maine — They came by bicycle, by roller-skis, by scooters, skateboards, strollers and on foot to roll or walk over the new Caribou Connector before it opened to motorized traffic Friday afternoon.
The Maine Department of Transportation teamed up Friday morning with the Caribou Parks and Recreation Department to celebrate the newly completed stretch of road connecting routes 161 and 1 just south of Caribou.
“We thought it would be a good idea before the road opens to vehicular traffic if people had the opportunity to go over it at a slower pace,” Kathy Mazzuchelli of Caribou Parks and Recreation said earlier this week. “This will give folks a chance to see some of the new technology used in the construction.”
On Friday, Mazzuchelli and her staff were busy shuttling vanloads of interested residents, VIPS and members of the media along the new stretch of road to show off new technology, including the so-called “ bridge in a backpack.”
The bridge was developed at the University of Maine as a lightweight, corrosion-resistant system for short to medium spans.
The components, according to the university’s website, are easily transportable, rapidly deployable and do not require the heavy equipment or large crews needed to handle the weight of traditional construction materials.
“I don’t think there is anyone else around who knows more about this project than Kathy [Mazzuchelli],” David Bernhardt, Maine DOT commissioner, said just before the road opened to motor vehicles. “She knows the specs and a lot of the engineering that went into it.”
The 3.8 miles of new road is an example of transportation engineering and construction at its best, Bernhardt said.
“This is construction using new innovation,” Ken Murchison, Caribou’s mayor, said. “It is clear to me we have set the standard for excellence in terms of transportation construction right here in Caribou.”
In addition to the special bridge, the roadway includes “critter crossings” designed to keep large animals away from motorists and the latest in environmental protection designs for drainage and erosion control.
The connector also represents a big step in improving highway safety in the area by routing heavy trucks and other through-motorists around downtown Caribou and away from three “high-crash-danger” intersections, Bernhardt said.
“This connector is important for the quality of life here and important for economic development and commerce,” he added.
The 3.8-mile-long, $20 million Caribou Connector was recommended as part of a larger Aroostook County Transportation Study.
Work began in 2010 on the connector, which begins just south of the Caribou Country Club on Route 161 and heads east, passes over Route 1 and again over Route 89 and continues west until it connects with routes 1 and 89 south of Bennett Drive.
Entrance and exit ramps are in place leading to and from Route 1, locally called Van Buren Road.
Before the ribbon cutting signaling the connector was open to traffic, pedestrians were allowed on the road, such as Corey Gagnon, 23, of Caribou, who had a chance to glide over the surface on his skateboard.
“Some people said if I wanted to skateboard on this road, this was my one day to do it,” Gagnon said. “It’s really smooth.”
A little way up the road, a cyclist was pedaling along and enjoying the car-free pavement.
“They ought to keep it just for bicycles,” the rider said with a laugh.
The first cars over the newest section of Maine roadway were some of the area’s oldest, as a parade of approximately 30 antique and vintage autos made the inaugural round trip from Route 161 to Route 89 and back before traffic started flowing later in the day.