The deputy transportation commissioner said expanding Interstate 95 from Houlton to Fort Kent could cost $1.8 billion.
In this Oct. 20, 2022, file photo, Route 1 is seen south of Van Buren. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The Maine Turnpike Authority was given the ability to construct a highway from the bottom of York County to the top of Aroostook County when it was created in 1941. The Legislature is now considering whether to finish the task.

The 303-mile highway currently only goes as far as Houlton. Maine has studied several times before whether it is feasible to extend it to Fort Kent. Lawmakers from northern Maine are hoping to pass a new bill requiring the state to look at it again.

But in a public hearing on the measure Wednesday, Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Nina Fisher warned that such a project would not qualify for the federal funding needed.

“You’ve heard that this has stalled, that this isn’t moving forward,” she told the Transportation Committee. “That’s correct. It’s not moving forward — the feds have determined that doesn’t meet the criteria for construction.”

Cost is also a factor, Fisher said. The state can get additional dollars for transportation projects from the federal government through grants and earmarks. Fisher said the highest grant she has seen for similar projects was $292 million — extending I-95 would cost an estimated $1.8 billion.

Still, supporters are hoping there is a way to make the project happen. The region’s winding, rural roads can make transporting goods extremely challenging, Twin Rivers Paper Co. LLC chief operating officer Robert Harvey said.

Democratic Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash argued the expansion is needed to bring economic and health care benefits to the region and preserve its rural roads.

“And I just see so much opportunity, not only for the area, but for I think the entire state of Maine,” he said.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.