Improving transportation to St. John Valley: stakeholder meetings begin

Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 9:30 PM EDT
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MADAWASKA, Maine (WAGM) - The Maine Department of Transportation held their first stakeholder meeting in Madawaska to discuss transportation improvements in northern Maine.

In June, LD 607 was passed to improve highway connections from Interstate 95 to the St. John Valley. An advisory stakeholder group was formed to discuss the options available for these improvements and to reach out to the public.

On Monday, September 18, 2023, the group had their first of four public meetings. “We certainly want the people of Aroostook to understand that we are looking into this,” said Paul Towle, the President and CEO of Aroostook Partnership, and a member of the stakeholder group. “We’ve heard concerns about distance to markets, distance to get to places, and how do I get there more quickly and more safely.”

The advisory stakeholder group is comprised of 11 members from a variety of municipalities and agencies across Aroostook County. Towle expressed confidence in the stakeholder group. “We’ve got a really good cross section that understands some of the more intricate needs of Aroostook,” Towle said.

Towle explained that the group is looking for suggestions on ways to make improvements to existing highway systems. Towle expressed that creating a new four-lane interstate was not a financially viable option, and that there is not much interest in completing another study on expanding Interstate 95 to northern Aroostook County. “Taking smaller, bite-sized projects and focusing on where we can make little improvements on the existing corridors as opposed to investing $3-4 billion on a new 4 lane divided highway from Houlton to St. John Valley,” Towle said.

Nina Fisher, the Deputy Commissioner for the Maine DOT, explained that the stakeholder group is looking for feedback regarding the major routes in Aroostook County. “We’re looking at the main connections through the County between Route 11, Route 1, Route 161, and all points in between,” Fisher said.

“We also want to hear from the residents, and the people who drive the trucks, and the farmers,” Fisher explained. She mentioned that it would be useful to hear locations where climbing lanes and wider travel lanes would benefit drivers. Additionally, information on high hit areas would be useful to increase safety on the northern Maine road.

The last hour of every stakeholder advisory meeting is dedicated to public comment. Judy Paradis, a former State Senator and State Representative, attended the public comment and emphasized the importance of the public attending these meetings. “I was very disappointed that there were not more of us,” Paradis said. “It’s not because we don’t care but I think some people have just given up . . . People always complain about things not getting done and stuff like that, but you have to be involved. I hate to say it – there’s no other way.”

Towle agreed that public input is necessary for the progression of the project. “Transportation impacts everyone in Aroostook County – everyone, everywhere - so it’s more important to communicate concerns or areas of improvement to a committee that can actually push for change,” Towle expressed.

Towle also explained that community members should bring suggestions to meetings that would focus on Aroostook County as a whole as opposed to roads that only serve a small portion of the county’s population. “It can’t just be for a small subset of people but we have to think collectively, what would benefit Aroostook County as a whole?” he said.

The next two in-person meetings will take place in Fort Ken in October and Caribou in November. The public are encouraged to bring ideas and questions, and will be given the opportunity to speak directly with members of the Maine DOT.