CARIBOU, Maine — Work is nearing completion on a multimillion-dollar transportation project aimed and easing the flow of truck traffic through central Aroostook County.

The 3.8-mile-long, $20 million Caribou Connector was recommended as part of a larger Aroostook County Transportation Study.

The study’s primary goal was to identify transportation improvements that would help lead to future economic growth in the study area.

The intent of the two-stage project was in part to enable the city to move ahead with downtown development plans while making it more pedestrian friendly.

Work began in 2010 on the connector, which begins just south of the Caribou Country Club on route 161 and heads east, passes over Route 1 and again over Route 89 and continues west until it connects with routes 1 and 89 south of Bennett Drive.

Entrance and exit ramps are in place leading to and from Route 1, commonly called Van Buren Road in the area.

“The work has been going fantastic,” Martine Burnham, Maine Department of Transportation resident-inspector, said on Friday. “The contractors are top notch and everyone has gone above and beyond to give us a good project.”

The project took place in two segments, Burnham said, with Soderberg Construction of Caribou completing the first one-mile section that included a so-called “bridge in a backpack” over the ITS recreational trail.

The bridge was developed at the University of Maine as lightweight, corrosion-resistant systems for short to medium spans.

The components, according to the university’s website, are “easily transportable, rapidly deployable and do not require the heavy equipment or large crews needed to handle the weight of traditional construction materials.”

Segment two, Burnham said, was a bit different in that the contractor, Sergeant Corp. of Stillwater, was responsible for both the design and the build of the section.

“This was not a regular project where DOT designed it,” Burnham said. “They do it all.”

That 2.8-mile-long section, she said, should be done the third week in August.

Subcontractors with Lane Construction are now planting trees and adding greenery to the roadside and plans call for additional guardrails, curbing and lighting to be in place by early August.

An eight-foot-tall fence has also been installed adjacent to the new road to prevent access to large animals like moose and deer.

Funded jointly by the state and federal governments, the route was designed to minimize effects on existing downtown businesses and on agricultural operations.

Burnham said a tentative opening date of Aug. 17 has been set.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.