After years of discussion, a bypass around Presque Isle’s Main Street is gradually becoming a reality.
The Maine Department of Transportation is finalizing land acquisitions between the Conant and Fort Fairfield roads, aiming to begin construction next year on the first of what may become two or three sections of the Presque Isle Bypass.
“We are progressing with the relocations of the early acquisitions,” said Rhobe Moulton, senior project manager at Maine DOT, referring to the four homes and two commercial properties affected by the Conant-Fort route. “We are in the process of appraising for this section, so rights such as land acquisition and drainage rights have yet to be acquired.”
The $14 million, approximately 1.5-mile bypass section will offer a new thoroughfare for trucks heading to and from McCain Foods and Huber Engineered Woods in Easton. For years, those trucks have had to drive through downtown Presque Isle and the residential and medical zone of Academy Street, a less-than-ideal situation for both residents and the truck drivers.
Less traffic would be a welcome relief to drivers, pedestrians and residents in the areas around Main and Academy streets in Presque Isle, although the project has still been controversial, with lingering doubts about the benefits and concerns about residents in the line of the bypass.
“There were 10 years of study. There’ve been a lot of frustrations,” Moulton said. “So many years of planning, and people start to believe it’s not going to happen.”
The Conant-Fort bypass is set to open in 2018. Among other factors, the construction has to contend with a “substantial ledge cut,” Moulton said.
Building the rest of the Presque Isle bypass will stretch into the 2020s, as part of a long-envisioned thoroughfare carrying traffic around residential and downtown areas of Presque Isle. But the full extent of a three-phase, $120 million proposal has yet to be decided.
The Maine DOT is planning to build the second proposed phase of the bypass, an approximately 5-mile corridor that would veer east of Route 1 north of the Westfield town line near Perkins Road and connect with Route 10 and Conant Road.
The agency already has acquired three buildings along that section, and construction is supposed to start in 2018, although Moulton said she “wouldn’t be surprised if that doesn’t end up sliding.”
The second section has drawn skepticism in the past as being too long and disruptive to farmland. “We don’t want another road from nowhere to nowhere,” Danny Stewart, whose farm property lies around the beginning of the route, told the Star-Herald in 2013.
The third proposed section of the bypass would link Fort Fairfield Road to Route 1 north with a new bridge crossing the Aroostook River. That also has drawn criticism, since it would disrupt residences and farmland and since a major thoroughfare already carries traffic to Route 1 and a relatively young four-lane bridge less than two miles away.
The Maine DOT’s plan is to construct the first two phases and then evaluate the need for the third section, Moulton said. “It may indicate that the third phase may not be necessary.”