Nearly $20 million in federal funding approved for St. John Valley road projects

1 month ago

FORT KENT, Maine – About $20 million in federal dollars will go to the St. John Valley to reconstruct portions of Route 161. 

The funding was secured by U.S. Senator Susan Collins, who is also Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The funding is part of $126,558,000 in Congressionally Directed Spending for MaineDOT via the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill for the 2024 fiscal year.

The THUD bill was passed by the Senate earlier this month and signed by President Joe Biden on March 9.

As part of the bill, $10.4 million will be used to reconstruct part of Route 161 from Cross Lake Township to New Canada and $8 million will be used to reconstruct a portion of Route 161 in Fort Kent.

These projects come after the formation of a MaineDOT stakeholder group in 2023 determined that it would not be feasible to extend the I-95 highway from Houlton to the St. John Valley. The group, which consisted of officials from Fort Kent, Madawaska, and Caribou, determined that the construction costs would be insurmountable. 

A breakdown of the costs was included in a Jan. 8 report to the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation, estimating that the total project would cost about $3.55 billion.

Instead, the group made several recommendations to improve the region’s existing highway system. Part of this improvement includes the MaineDOT Village Partnership Initiative, which is using millions of dollars in grant money to help towns revitalize their downtown areas and village centers. Several St. John Valley towns, including Fort Kent, Van Buren, and Madawaska, are already involved in this program.

The stakeholders also suggested major improvements to three major corridors: Route 1, Route 11, and Route 161.

The recently approved funding will cover roughly 80 percent of the costs necessary for these projects, with the state share being 20 percent.

According to the MaineDOT work plan for 2024, 2025 and 2026, several elements of these projects are set to begin between now and 2026. The work includes paving, reconstruction, mill and fill, and rehabilitation of roads.

MaineDOT will also begin a corridor management study on each of the three roads. This study will include coordinating with officials involved with the Village Partnership Initiative to look at towns that include these roads. All three roads, for example, lead into Fort Kent.

The management study will also include looking at high crash locations and determining the best spots for passing lanes.