A sign just south of the old bridge between Canada and the United States indicates some of the travel restrictions for those still able to cross between countries. Credit: Hannah Caitlin / St. John Valley Times

MADAWASKA, Maine — With two massive federal infrastructure projects coming to Madawaska this summer, construction promises to transform the face of the downtown area, though final details on both projects remain uncertain.

Both the Land Port of Entry and the International Bridge have set construction start dates in the coming months, with Reed & Reed, the bridge builders, looking to move trailers into town by the end of April.

Meanwhile, there is no official or impending start date for the LPOE project, with the General Services Administration saying only that the current timeline marks summer 2021 for the site preparation. GSA and contractors J & J Construction are still in the design development phase, and GSA public affairs officer Paul Hughes said that phase would continue for six to nine months.

The new LPOE will sit west of downtown on a lot currently populated by three unoccupied houses and a McDonald’s restaurant.

Before construction can begin, crews will need to demolish the existing structures. For now though, the McDonald’s is still open for business, and employees have not heard when the location would close or if their jobs would be protected.

The McDonald’s in Madawaska will close in coming months as the lot becomes the construction site for a new Land Port of Entry. Credit: Hannah Catlin / St. John Valley Times

GSA declined to comment on the future of the location and the status of negotiations between McDonald’s and the federal government. A representative from local McDonald’s management declined to comment on the situation last month, and was not available to provide an update. Representatives from J & J Construction, the contractors in charge of the project, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Madawaska resident Robert Webster, a McDonald’s regular, said that he would be disappointed to see the location close. He gets his morning coffee there, and said the employees, some of whom have been there as long as he’s been a customer, always know how to make it just right.

“I didn’t even have to ask, they just knew,” Webster said.

Meanwhile, Reed & Reed is facing the still-closed border between the United States and Canada, a wrinkle that could cause delays in construction.

“We sure hope they’ll lift the COVID restrictions soon, because we need to have access over there,” CEO Jackson Parker said. “I hope and think by the time we get up there and start working in May we’ll be able to have open borders [but] your guess is as good as mine.”

If workers are unable to cross, Parker said the company would focus on building up the U.S. abutment until restrictions lift.

Construction will also likely affect downtown driving, with Main Street running immediately adjacent to the LPOE site. Meanwhile, away from the downtown area entirely, Madawaska public works will undertake the first stage of a major hot topping project.

Town manager Gary Picard was unsure the effect the ongoing work would have on traffic, saying that representatives from each project would be responsible for managing the flow individually.

“GSA, MaineDOT and their respective contractors will collaborate, coordinate and communicate any significant, planned traffic and travel impacts during construction as necessary,” Hughes said.

One thing is sure — with dozens of workers coming into town for the multi-year projects, the streets will be more full than usual, something that could spell promise for local businesses. Reed & Reed, for one, will host a job fair in Madawaska on April 19, looking to bring local contractors in on the bridge construction.

“That would definitely increase everything from apartment rentals to dining to purchases in the retail stores,” Sharon Boucher, director of the St. John Valley Chamber of Commerce, said. “It would mean a lot for the town.”

Boucher has been assembling a directory of apartment rentals since a Reed & Reed representative called her earlier this week. While the streets are quiet when Boucher leaves work at night now, she sees a bustling Main Street in Madawaska’s future.

“I really think we’re going to have a lively downtown,” she said.

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Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.