State cancels paving projects
HOULTON, Maine — Thanks to Houlton’s voter-approved million dollar bond for road and sidewalk repair, bright orange construction signs and road cones keep popping up around town. Trucks regularly haul asphalt and traffic flaggers wearing neon-colored hats and safety vests direct cars to go slow or stop. Substantial progress has been made on plans to repair 21 roads and 23 sidewalks, according to Houlton Town Manager Doug Hazlett. Seven sidewalks are completed; four are in process. Two roads are completed; nine are in process.
“It’s so confusing you don’t know which way to go,” says Gina Pryor of Houlton. BJ Lorom of Linneus and his wife Trisha have different experiences. “It forced me to drive more miles to go around it.” His wife: “I drive in town more than he does. The new roads are good considering they’re not beating the crap out of my vehicle.”
Greg Mailman of Danforth, has been working as a flagger for contractor Steelstone Industries. He agrees with co-workers that drivers don’t hesitate to make their opinions known about the delays. “One guy told me he would hit me, but he didn’t want to put a big dent in his truck.” Mailman laughed and acknowledged that the driver “was only fooling around” as he expressed his exasperation with a serious tie-up.
Farther down on Mooers Road, Aaron McGary, another flagger, said there are times when drivers are not in a joking mood. “Some people swear at you and move the barricades and it just makes a big mess for us.”
Houlton Public Works Director Leigh Stillwell conceded that delays are annoying and says he tries to inform the public of scheduled construction through notices on the public access channel and local radio station WHOU so that drivers can plan accordingly.
Rain has inhibited the progress of road and sidewalk repair which, he says, is scheduled to complete in October. Stilwell adds that dampness is less of a problem than the actual rain which just halts everything to a full stop. But, on days when the forecast is up in the air, the crews can shift from roads to sidewalks and keep things moving.
Stilwell’s team prepares the street for the first light paving with pot hole patching and cleaning. Then, public works crews and Houlton Water Co. crews adjust sewer main covers, water gates and storm drains to the height of the new pavement before Steelstone can begin the final layer of asphalt which also requires finishing work to the curbside. Sidewalk repair also entails prep work as well as finishing work to restore driveways and lawns.
Although approximately $162 million in federal stimulus money is streaming into Maine for highways, roads, bridges, transit and aviation, only a tiny fraction of that is being spent in Aroostook County. Five and one-half miles of Route 1A near Hamlin are on track for heavy paving. The rest is going to projects in southern, mid-coast, eastern and western regions.
The Maine Department of Transportation has cancelled all of next year’s maintenance paving projects and will only pave 250 miles this year instead of the 400 miles it had planned. DOT’s emphasis is on road reconstruction, heavy paving and bridge repairs or replacement, not maintenance. (See news briefs for Houlton bridge detours starting Monday.)
DOT has essentially scrapped about 75 percent of all maintenance paving projects over the next two years. Among this year’s state cancellations is seven miles of the Ludlow Road across the railroad tracks at the “urban compact line” when drivers leave the shopping area. Hazlett says: “We did our part … it’s truly amazing that we could have a seven-mile stretch of road in that condition that doesn’t qualify.”
Houlton’s responsibility, adds Hazlett, was to pave from North Street to the railroad tracks which it did. The state was to pick up the paving from that point for the next seven miles. But, with the financial crunch in Augusta, DOT Commissioner David Cole made the tough and likely unpopular decision “to cancel nearly 40 percent of our maintenance paving projects for this year, and all of our maintenance paving projects for the following year unless more resources are identified.”
Getting around for a few more months may have film buffs recalling Bette Davis’ warning in the 1950 Academy Award-winning film “All About Eve”: “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”