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Caribou councilors split vote 4-3 in favor of realigning River Road

CARIBOU, Maine — During a special council meeting on Monday, Nov. 26, Caribou city councilors voted 4-3 to move forward with major changes to River Road and surrounding properties to repair damage to the road that occurred earlier this year.

A section of the road, which runs along the Aroostook River, broke apart this past spring due to soil saturation and runoff. City officials closed off the road for months until Nov. 5 when they had public works crews open up one lane to traffic after filling in part of the roadway and putting up barricades to keep people away from the more damaged portion. Signs on either end of the roughly quarter-mile long stretch indicate a 20 mile per hour speed limit and warn drivers to travel at their own risk.

Councilors heard Monday night from Shane McDougal, of local engineering firm DuBois and King, who reminded them of their four main options for repair the roadway. During past meetings the councilors were leaning toward two of four options: building a wall between the road and the adjacent Aroostook River while reconstructing the road where it formerly stood or realigning the road 30 feet east, or away from the river, while demolishing three affected homes in the area.

McDougal estimates that building a wall and reconstructing the road would cost the city $1.4 million while moving the road east and demolishing the properties would cost around $1.2 million.

The city’s third option would be to construct a new road over an existing rail bed east of the current road, and to reroute the safe portions of the existing road to the new road. This option has the least impact on existing properties, but the estimated price is $2.6 million. Option four is to drop the road down ten feet, which would require rebuilding sewer lines and acquiring at least three properties on the road, but comes with an estimated $1.35 million cost.

Councilor R. Mark Goughan stated that although he admired the preliminary surveying work that McDougal and his colleagues have performed on River Road, he did not feel comfortable supporting any of the four options until the city is able to see the full effects that spring runoff will have on the road in 2019.

“I personally want to make sure we go over every possible option before we invest $1.2 million into a project,” Goughan said.

But fellow councilor Joan Theriault, who lives near River Road, advocated for implementing option two as the best possible way to avoid further damage from snow runoff in the spring.

“We should at least decide on an option tonight so that we could move forward with the design and bidding processes,” Theriault said.

She then told McDougal that she had seen a marked increase in traffic on the road since the city reopened it earlier this month and asked him, “Will that lead to more deterioration?”

McDougal replied, “That’s a tough question to answer right now, but from what we’ve seen, the major damage has already been done. I don’t think anything worse could happen to the road at this point.”

Caribou City Mayor David Martin also voiced support for option two and asked McDougal what timeline he envisioned if the councilors were to make a decision that night.

“If we act on a decision soon, I would put out bids as early as March or April,” McDougal said. “What we’ve just completed is a preliminary feasibility study, which means we would have to then finalize designs during the winter and then present them to the city.”

Martin then concluded that perhaps the best option for Caribou would be for the councilors to approve moving River Road 30 feet east and demolishing the three properties for the time being so that the city does not put off further progress for the roadway.

“I would like to at least decide on something tonight so that we could have more time to look at Shane’s designs,” Martin said.

In the end, Martin and Theriault as well as councilor Timothy Guerrette and Deputy Mayor Nicole Cote voted in favor of option two while councilors Goughan, Hugh Kirkpatrick and Philip McDonough opposed it.

The next Caribou City Council meeting is set for Monday, Dec. 10, in the council chambers.

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