FORT KENT, Maine — Most drivers would agree there is very little fun about sitting in traffic.
But residents and visitors to Fort Kent had better get used to some delays this summer where a combination of bridge construction and road resurfacing will impact traffic from one end of town to the other.
Vehicle traffic has already been reduced to one lane across the Fish River Bridge connecting East Main and West Main streets as Maine DOT crews replace the structure’s old decking.
“They are repairing the decking and replacing the surface with concrete,” said Don Guimond, Fort Kent town manager. “This was desperately needed.”
While the work progresses, signal lights control the flow of traffic over the bridge.
Guimond said the work has caused some delays for drivers — especially during high traffic periods when the schools let out for the day or when there is an influx of cars following services at the Catholic church on East Main Street.
“Some people are pushing the red light and not stopping,” Guimond said. “Then when the light turns green on the opposite side, those cars are still occupying the one travel lane.”
Work on the Fish River Bridge should wrap up by July 4, Guimond said, just in time for the start of the resurfacing project toward the middle of July.
“Main Street is very rutted,” he said. “The work will basically be on the traveled portion of the road.”
The traffic flow along the nearly one mile construction project will remain unchanged, according to Mark Latti, public information director for DOT.
The project extends from just north of the intersection of East Main Street and Market Street to roughly 500 feet from the existing international bridge on West Main Street.
“This is your basic ‘mill and fill’ project,” Latti said. “We are taking off an inch and a quarter of the existing pavement, grinding it up and replacing it with new pavement.”
DOT, according to Latti, is spending $504,000 between the bridge and resurfacing projects.
Amid that construction, the state and the province of New Brunswick are moving ahead with plans to start construction of the new international bridge this summer.
“The government of New Brunswick is the lead agency on that project,” Latti said. “I believe they are going out to bid on it in late June.”
Construction is slated to begin on that new bridge in September with an estimated completion date by 2013.
In the meantime, teams are busy with asbestos abatement at the former Masonic Lodge which is slated to be demolished later this summer to make room for the new bridge.
Once that building is down, Guimond said, the empty lot will become the staging area for heavy trucks waiting to cross the existing international bridge.
This past winter the bridge was posted, limiting heavy traffic to one truck at a time. Commercial and private traffic over the bridge is currently controlled by a series of signal lights with trucks staging along Pearl Street.
“With the new staging area the signal configuration will change,” Guimond said.
Trucks traveling west will enter the new staging area from East Main Street.
For those traveling east from Allagash, Guimond said, drivers will be required to continue through town, turn onto Pleasant Street, cross the bridge onto Market Street, drive north back toward West Main Street and then back through town to the staging area off East Main Street.
“Luckily the bulk of the truck traffic does not come from the direction of Allagash,” Guimond said.
Curtis and Christine Saucier have had a front row view of the Fish River Bridge construction from their business Home Solutions near the bridge.
“We’ve seen a lot of frustrated drivers,” Christine Saucier said. “People are not accustomed to the lights.”
Curtis Saucier noted while the construction can be an inconvenience, it will be worth it.
“They guys are doing a great job,” he said. “This is something that will last for years.”
Down the road at Sears, store owner Alan Susee agrees.
“I’m delighted and extremely happy [because] the road needs it,” he said. “A few people may be impatient but will they not shop here and go to Presque Isle instead? I don’t think so.”
Susee said the larger impact would likely be felt by his delivery and freight drivers as they negotiate their way to his loading docks off West Main Street.
Several doors up, Samantha Berry, owner of Custom Cake Cafe, is a concerned all the work could impact her restaurant.
“I worry it could potentially deter foot traffic,” Berry said. “We had planned to place tables and chairs outside for the summer for outdoor eating but I don’t think people want to smell asphalt while eating their food.”
All DOT construction along Main Street should be completed by the end of summer, Guimond said, adding it’s going to be a busy season in Fort Kent with sewer or water line work also slated for Meadow Lane, Dube Street, School Street and Elm Street.
“We are asking people to be patient and considerate to those doing the work,” he said. “At the end of the day when this is all done we will all be better off.”