FORT KENT, Maine — It’s been a long summer for drivers in Fort Kent, but the end of the road is in sight.
Overlapping state road and bridge projects have created traffic headaches in this St. John Valley town where any novelty of traffic jams and detours wore off weeks ago.
“It has been a long summer,” Don Guimond, Fort Kent town manager said. “Particularly for our businesses downtown [and] they are the backbone of our community.”
In June the Maine Department of Transportation began a redecking project on the Fish River Bridge connecting East and West Main Streets, reducing traffic to one lane for all that month and most of July.
Before that project wrapped up, DOT began a one-mile resurfacing project on East and West Main streets creating additional headaches for drivers passing through the construction sites in stop-and-go traffic.
Adding fuel to the transportation fire, truck traffic entering Canada has been detoured around Fort Kent and back down the two Main streets as state and federal agencies prepare to begin construction of a new international bridge.
Work on the Fish River Bridge is complete, but the Main Street project passed its July 30 deadline due to weather and material procedural issues.
“We had 21 days of rain in July,” Ryan Pelletier, manager with Northern Maine Paving, Inc., said Friday afternoon. “Plus we had some additional shoulder work and curbing work.”
Described by DOT officials as a basic “mill and fill project,” Pelletier’s crew first stripped off just over an inch of the existing road material, ground it up and is now waiting to begin the application of the final layer of asphalt.
That final step has been delayed due to Northern Maine Paving’s having to resubmit the job mix formula for that final layer to the state lab for testing.
According to Mark Latti, spokesman for the DOT, all asphalt in all state paving projects is run through tests at a state lab in Bangor.
When the company submitted a sample earlier this summer before the project began, Latti said, it met the specifications for a project farther down Route 1, but not for the thicker layer required on the final coat of Fort Kent roadway.
“This does not mean Northern Paving failed that test or their material was substandard quality,” Latti said. “It’s a mater of even though it was approved for one project it did not meet the specifications of this project.”
That submission and testing process, Pelletier said, can take up to two weeks, thus delaying the start of the Main Street paving.
“What we submitted for the top course [of paving] is not what was needed for the bottom course,” Pelletier said.
His company quickly readjusted the mixture at its St. Agatha facility and submitted that new sample, which has been approved.
“We are definitely off schedule thanks to that submission and testing process and the rain,” Pelletier said.
Pelletier said he was also working Friday to better streamline traffic flow around and through the construction as it enters its final phase.
Paving was slated to begin Saturday with a completion date of Wednesday, Aug. 7. Just in time for the town to welcome hundreds of anglers to the annual International Muskie Derby next weekend.
“The whole summer has been one, long detour,” Guimond said. “And it has not always been a smooth ride.”