Construction has begun on the first section of a 7.5-mile bypass around downtown Presque Isle. And if this coming winter is like the last, work may continue straight into spring.
Madawaska-based contractor Ed Pelletier & Sons started work this fall on the first 1.8 mile section of the bypass, which is aimed at reducing industrial traffic through downtown and residential Presque Isle. Crews will be working on the new thoroughfare between Route 167 and Conant Road at least until January, according to Beecher Whitcomb, project manager with the Maine Department of Transportation.
“They’re going to work as long as they can, weather permitting,” Whitcomb said. “They said if it was like last year, they might go all winter.”
This fall, the crew has been clearing and excavating along the south-to-northwest route of the bypass, which includes several substantial ledges to cut through as a well as a bridge and underpass that will be added, Whitcomb said.
MDOT has given the first section of bypass a total budget of $14 million. Out of four construction firms that submitted bids for the project, Ed Pelletier and Sons were the lowest at $7.9 million, Whitcomb said.
The rest of the $14 million encompasses planning, inspection and compensation for property owners where the route comes through. Fourteen buildings were required to be moved, and there are two left to be taken away, Whitcomb said. He added that the exact compensation for individual property owners is confidential.
The first section of the bypass between what are known locally as the Conant and Fort roads is expected to be done by November 2018, Whitcomb said. It will be fully paved later and probably won’t open until the other section and the full bypass route is complete — sometime after 2020.
People driving in Presque Isle, particularly on Route 167 to and from Fort Fairfield, will experience a few traffic changes and delays amid construction, Whitcomb said.
The northeast end of State Street, connecting to Route 167, will be closed for six months starting in May while the crew builds an overpass bridge for State Street and the section of the bypass underneath State Street. In August, for at least one month, a section of Route 167 will be turned to alternating one-way traffic with temporary traffic signals, Whitcomb said.
A bypass around Presque Isle’s Route 1 Main Street has been discussed for more than two decades as a traffic solution for lumber and potato trucks traveling to and from McCain Foods and Huber Engineered Woods in Easton. For years, much of that truck traffic has come through downtown Presque Isle’s Route 1 Main Street and the residential and medical corridor of Academy Street.
City leaders and MDOT officials say the bypass will alleviate much of that truck traffic, at the same time that Presque Isle is focusing on drawing business, visitors and residents to downtown.
In 2018, MDOT will be seeking bids from contractors for the second phase of the bypass, an approximately 5-mile corridor that is to begin south of Presque Isle, veer east of Route 1 north of the Westfield town line and connect with Route 10 in Easton.
That route and its budget have not yet been finalized, though Whitcomb said it would cost roughly “four times” as much as the first 1.5-mile section — or more than $50 million. The general path would travel through severals parcels of farmland and potentially involve four bridges, Whitcomb said.
Previous proposals for the Presque Isle Bypass included a third, northern section that would cross the Aroostook River from Route 167 and connect with Route 1 as it heads north to Caribou. That proposed section drew opposition from locals who criticized it as unnecessarily disrupting residential properties, and it was effectively dropped from the plan, as the federal government approved funding only for the two sections.