Presque Isle downtown Main Street and part of Route 1 that is in the planning process of a Village Partnership Initiative between city officials and Maine Department of Transportation. Credit: Paul Bagnall / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Presque Isle has started redesigning its Main Street with a team of consultants and the Maine Department of Transportation.

The city hired a team of consultants to work with them in the transportation department’s statewide Village Partnership Initiative, which aims to revitalize Maine town centers.

It’s been nearly 40 years since Presque Isle last reconstructed Main Street. It joins other Maine towns, like Gray and Dover-Foxcroft, in the transportation department’s plan to rejuvenate downtown areas while making them safer and easier to navigate. The redesign will boost Presque Isle’s ongoing efforts to attract more people and businesses while accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists.

Dale Doughty, director of public outreach and planning for the Maine Department of Transportation.

“A lot of these village initiatives are bringing a balance back to Maine’s downtowns with vehicular and pedestrian traffic,” said Dale Doughty, director of planning for the Maine Department of Transportation. “If you think back to the 1940s or 1950s, downtowns were very pedestrian-oriented and over time design for vehicles have taken over some of the downtowns.”

Aroostook County towns Madawaska, Fort Kent and Van Buren have also signed on with the Village Partnership plan.

The transportation department is partnering with the city because it oversees U.S. Route 1, on which Presque Isle’s Main Street is situated. The process involves seeking federal grant money through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, with some portion of matching funds. The department would help the city seek federal funding, which usually requires a 20 percent match.

“Part of the village initiative is to move truck traffic off Main Street through phase two of the Presque Isle bypass, bringing back the vitality of a downtown business center,” Doughty said.

Now that the city has hired the consultant team, design work can begin. The group is from T.Y.Lin International’s office in Falmouth, and includes Presque Isle native Christopher Helstrom.

The effort is community-focused, and city officials are already receiving feedback from residents, who can visit city hall to visit a table that displays a map highlighting possible improvements to Presque Isle’s Main Street.

A feasibility study will begin in the coming weeks, after more community feedback has been received, and will take around nine months to a year to complete, said Galen Weibley, Presque Isle’s director of economic and community development.

The Village Partnership will split costs, with 80 percent of the money coming from the state transportation department, 10 percent from the state and 10 percent from the city.

The total costs are not defined as the project is in its earliest planning stages, but it will be a multimillion-dollar reinvestment into downtown Presque Isle, Weibley said.

Specifically for Presque Isle, the Maine Department of Transportation is looking for ways to move traffic more efficiently and improve pedestrian safety. Plans will examine how to move commercial traffic around the community without causing heavy traffic downtown.

“This planning effort is lining up perfectly with the improvements to the Presque Isle Bypass, for which the second phase is under design right now,” Weibley said.

Once a design has been developed and approved, the next step will be to apply for grants. MDOT will begin the design phase, calculate the actual cost and submit a grant application to the United States Department of Transportation.

Around two to three public hearings will be held throughout the summer to go over any revisions to the Initiative with a final plan in place by fall 2023 to be considered by city council. The final report will be available at the end of 2023.

The Village Partnership Initiative has received significant community feedback from downtown commuters and pedestrians, which will be shared with the city council, Weibley said.

“It’s a great collaboration effort that the city is looking forward to partnering with MDOT to revitalize our downtown, which is the first time it’s been done in over 40 years,” Weibley said.