June 19, 2018
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Fort Kent tweaking plan to allow trucks on bridge

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
CAPTION Flashlights in hand, warden Paul Farrington of Springfield and Sgt. Ron Dunham of Lincoln , both Maine wardens, inspect the level of the swollen St. John River as it continued to rise under the International Bridge just before 2 a.m. Thursday. The river was expected to crest around that time but actually peaked 7pm Wednesday. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS (WEB EDITION PHOTO)
By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

FORT KENT, Maine — Municipal and transportation officials from two countries continue to fine-tune a plan to allow heavy truck traffic over the international bridge connecting Maine to Clair, New Brunswick.

Earlier this month, the 81-year-old bridge was posted by the Maine Department of Transportation, restricting traffic to vehicles weighing 3 tons or less and necessitating a 40-mile detour for heavy rigs to the nearest port of entry in Madawaska.

A plan to use a combination of signal lights and a manned traffic observation booth suggested during a meeting among transportation and government officials last week has been abandoned due to logistical and financial issues associated with staffing the post.

On Thursday, officials again met in Fort Kent and moved toward a more automated system to control truck traffic.

“It looks like we now have the final draft of a plan,” Don Guimond, Fort Kent town manager, said Friday morning. “There are still remaining issues to be worked out, but it’s a good start.”

The new plan calls for highly computerized signal lights that would limit the flow of heavy truck traffic to one truck on the bridge at a time to be installed on both sides of the bridge. All other traffic would be stopped every 20 minutes to allow one truck to travel across.

“Those trucks must use the center lane,” Kenneth Michaud, Fort Kent chief of police, said Friday morning.

Once the truck has passed, both lanes would reopen to all other traffic in both directions.

The lights, he added, will be in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Restricting truck traffic to one at a time at 20-minute intervals is bound to create a backlog in both countries, Guimond and Michaud said. But both said that is still better than the alternative of not allowing any heavy trucks to cross at Fort Kent.

The bridge sees between 40 and 45 trucks crossing each day, they said.

The current plan under consideration would have trucks waiting to cross into Maine from Canada waiting at the Canadian Customs parking area, while those crossing from Fort Kent into Clair could be staged along Pearl Street, which connects to Main Street across from the U.S. port of entry.

“There will be a human element at first,” Guimond said. “Someone will be there making sure the lights are working.”

Before the plan can be put into action, some details must be worked out, including obtaining clearance for MDOT employees and their contractors to work on property under Canadian Custom and Immigration jurisdiction.

Guimond said he also must present the plan to the Town Council during its Monday night meeting next week.

“It sounds like a plan that could really work,” Guimond said. “Everyone is going to have to step up to the plate, [and] it won’t be perfect, but we can make it work.”

Officials from both countries will meet again in Fort Kent early next week to possibly finalize the plan to reopen the bridge to heavy vehicle traffic.

The bridge, which is showing visible wear on its concrete deck, is slated for replacement once funding is secured for the $11 million project.

Maine currently has its share of the funds, but the recently elected New Brunswick government failed to appropriate its share for this year.

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