Maine DOT plans $84.3 million Presque Isle bypass extension

3 weeks ago

Presque Isle will see one of the state’s largest upcoming road projects when the second leg of its bypass gets underway.

The nearly 6-mile project is estimated to cost $84.3 million and will connect the existing northern leg of the bypass to Route 1 south of the city center, according to the Maine Department of Transportation’s newly released 2024-2026 work plan.

The project will mesh with the city’s redesign, part of Maine DOT’s Village Partnership Initiative. Engineers plan a Main Street that is friendlier to pedestrians and other modes of transportation like bicycles. Keeping large, heavy trucks out of the city center will boost safety and the ability to attract more people and businesses to the downtown, state planners have said.

“Not only is it the biggest Aroostook County project in the work plan, but it’s also one of the biggest projects in our work plan overall,” said Paul Merrill, Maine Department of Transportation communications director. 

The new roadway will add 5.9 miles, starting at Route 1 at the Westfield town line and connecting to the existing bypass leg at Conant Road, he said. The completed bypass will be 7.6 miles long.

The bypass was originally envisioned as a three-phase project, with the first two sections connecting the Fort Road south to Route 1 near Westfield, and a third connecting the Fort Road north, also intersecting with Route 1. But the federal government approved funding for only the first two sections.  

Maine DOT believes those pieces south of Presque Isle will provide the most benefit. The northern piece may not happen, Merrill said.

“The northerly segment, which will be the most expensive, will be further evaluated after the southerly segment is constructed, but based on current conditions, construction of this segment is unlikely to move forward,” he said.

Construction on the roadway’s first 1.7-mile stretch started in 2016 and the piece opened in June 2020. State officials expect to put the new job out to bid in late fall this year or in early winter 2025, Merrill said. He did not say when construction would begin.

Partial funding for the project will come from a $44.1 million federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant the department received in 2022, part of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, according to Maine DOT.

City and state officials had talked about building a bypass around Presque Isle for more than 20 years, particularly because of traffic to and from major factories like Huber Engineered Woods and McCain Foods, both in Easton.

“One of the driving forces behind this whole project when it started was to try to get some of the truck traffic away from Presque Isle,” said Bob Watson, director of operations for the Maine DOT northern regional office in Presque Isle.

The state DOT is managing the project. The new road will help both trucks and local traffic, he said.

Presque Isle’s Main Street is often congested during the day, and driving it can be nerve-wracking for both truck drivers and operators of other vehicles as the large trucks maneuver intersections.

The biggest benefit of the bypass is that it will allow trucks, particularly those heading north and south through Presque Isle, to travel without having to navigate the downtown, Watson said. 

Maine DOT was also awarded $1.2 million in congressionally directed spending for engineering of the bypass project, according to the DOT’s 2022 grant application. The finished bypass could mean 544 fewer trucks downtown in the first year and a 20 percent reduction in vehicle crashes, the application stated.

Reducing the amount of truck traffic will improve Main Street and make it safer, Merrill said.

“This project will improve safety and mobility on Route 1 between points north and south of Presque Isle,” he said. “Maine DOT is always looking to improve downtown and village areas where people meet, shop, and do business on a human scale.”