The Maine DOT's advisory stakeholder group meets in Caribou to discuss Aroostook County transportation
CARIBOU, Maine (WAGM) - The Maine Department of Transportation hosted its third Aroostook County Advisory Stakeholder meeting in Caribou on Tuesday, November 14, 2023, to discuss transportation needs in Aroostook County.
Over 20 people from the public attended the meeting, including people from local municipalities as well as individuals. Seven stakeholders were present at the meeting, as well as seven members of the Maine DOT.
At the meeting, the Maine DOT gave a recap on what work has been done so far in Aroostook County and what work is planned for the near future. The Maine DOT also spoke about the infeasibility of building a four-lane interstate connecting Interstate 95 to the St. John Valley and asked the public and stakeholders to instead focus on “bite-sized” areas of improvement.
Maine DOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note asked the public to speak about ideas they have for improvements. “What we’re looking for is specifics,” Commissioner Van Note said. “We actually want to hear what you’re thinking so as we advise future work plans we can do stuff that actually makes a difference in the travels of Aroostook County.”
The public gave such feedback, including suggestions for areas in Aroostook County that they believe should have speed limit adjustments. There were also concerns raised about the railways in the county, as well as trucks going through residential areas of Presque Isle.
At the end of the meeting, the stakeholders were asked to provide some of their individual thoughts now that three meetings have been completed.
Gary Picard, Madawaska Town Manager, voiced the importance of taking care of the roads in Aroostook County due to the lack of an interstate connecting the northern part of the county to the south. “In the absence of an interstate our roads are the interstate for us up here,” Picard said. “We ought to consider elevating our secondary roads, roads that we might consider a top priority that may not be, to a higher level of service and maintenance.
Picard also voiced that although he does not support an extension of Interstate 95 at present, due to the high cost and infeasibility of getting the correct permits, it should not be off the table completely. “I don’t recommend it personally right now because it’s not in the cards, I don’t think it’s reasonable for us to spend our time trying to achieve something that’s not achievable in this point in time,” Picard said.
Picard continued that he believes a four-lane interstate may be possible and beneficial in the future. “I think we should report out that that should be a long term goal and not bring closure to I95 ever coming to the St. John Valley,” said Picard.
Robert Clark, the Executive Director of the Northern Maine Development Commission, said that his goal is to put together a list of specific ideas, such as areas that need passing lanes or improvements. “We won’t call it I95 but eventually we will get to a highway system that’s going to meet a lot of our transportation needs.”
Suzie Paradis, the Fort Kent Town Manager, voiced a desire to look at the major routes that currently connect the St. John Valley to the rest of the county. “We need to look at improving our current road infrastructure, like Route 161, Route 11, Route 1,” Paradis said. “I think we need to widen our roadways. We need to add passing lanes, truck lanes, and like Gary mentioned, add some economic features to those roadways.”
Troy Haney, a local business owner in Caribou, said that he hopes the group can focus on the long-term needs of the county. “We need to set our goals and our visions a little further out. We need to think about what a roadway needs to be not today but years from now.”
Haney also spoke about the importance of having good roads in Aroostook County beyond just safety. “A road is, yup, it’s a means of transportation, but it’s also a means to a stronger, healthier economy and a more vibrant community for us to look at in Aroostook County,” Haney said.
Finally, Haney said that it’s important to invest in Aroostook County roads due to the benefit the county brings to the rest of the state. “[When] people come into Aroostook County they need to go through the entire state of Maine to get here, much like a milk cooler in the grocery store. And that allows everybody, all the aisles in the store, the opportunity to sell something. So I think we need to advocate a little stronger to the state to look at Aroostook County as a place of investment.”
Maine DOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note ended the meeting in a message of confidence for the group. “I think you can improve those highway connections in a way that keep you connected to the whole country,” Commissioner Van Note said. “Interstates alone are not the only way to do it, I think this group has agreed to that, so let’s take this the rest of the way.”
The final stakeholder meeting will be held remotely over Zoom in December, and the public is invited to attend. For more information on the specifics of the meeting, the Maine DOT advised those interested to read the minutes from the meeting that will be uploaded onto their website.
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