A powerful voice. In tough times for Maine’s towns and cities, it’s good to have the MBTA on your side.
By Gregory A. Dore
By Kathryn Buxton
Shut down. A bold plan to repair a crumbling section of I-295 pays off.
A perfect storm. Market forces bring Maine’s transportation system to an historic crossroads.
By Kathryn Buxton
In it for the long haul. Harold Bouchard and the trucking company he founded.
By Doug Rooks
by Gregory A. Dore, MBTA President
MBTA is a powerful voice for Maine cities and towns.
As Maine municipalities struggle with rising costs and tight budgets, it’s good to have a strong advocate on our side.
As the head of a public works agency in a town in central Maine, I know just how important transportation is to the people I serve. If there’s a pothole on Water Street, or if the snowplows don’t get out fast enough during the first winter storm, I hear about it.
Skowhegan isn’t an especially large town (pop. 8,824). I wouldn’t say we’re a rich town, either (the median income is just over $28,000). So, like a lot of other cities and towns in Maine, we have to be creative about how we go about getting our bridges fixed, and our streets paved and plowed every year.
I count myself lucky to have good tools in my public works toolbox to get the job done. One is a good staff that is called to work through all kinds of weather – from the mountains of snow and ice we faced this past winter to this summer’s torrential rains. My crews are professional public servants who take their duties and responsibilities seriously. They never hesitate to answer when they get that call during an emergency, no matter what time of day or night.
Another valuable ally is my town administration, with whom I work closely to set priorities and to budget for highway and road maintenance repairs. I am fortunate to work with volunteer, elected and paid officials who understand how critical transportation infrastructure is to Skowhegan’s present and future. They know the role it plays in attracting and retaining businesses, and how it also contributes to the wonderful quality of life we enjoy here on the banks of the Kennebec River.
The Skowhegan Highway Department, in fact, has a mission statement that reflects the town’s commitment to improving “the quality of life by providing essential services to insure maintenance, improvement and protection of the town’s infrastructure and natural resources.” It is a statement that reflects my beliefs as well, and one which is at the heart of what public works is all about.
As we all know, these days there are a lot of pressures facing the cities and towns of Maine as they struggle to fulfill promises to their residents to maintain and improve local roads, bridges and highways (and in some cases transit systems). Even in the best of times those promises are subject to budgetary constraints, which is the aim of all good government. But this year is something different. Prices, as you well know, on practically everything have gone up. This year, Maine towns and cities are finding it harder to make due with skimpy road funding and higher costs. In Skowhegan, we have been hit this year by what I call the “triple whammy:” high road salt prices during a season of unusually high snowfall; a bad pothole season with lots of moisture damaging the roads during the late winter and early spring; and rapidly rising asphalt prices that came just as we were at the peak of our summer road maintenance season. Between January and August, liquid asphalt prices rose from $307.50 a ton to $765 per ton – more than doubling.
The picture grew even darker for many of my fellow public works directors, when MaineDOT announced it was suspending $13.6 million in paving projects in 21 Maine towns and cities because of high asphalt prices. That represents more than 85 miles of Maine highways that were badly in need of resurfacing, and even though Skowhegan was not among the towns affected this year, I know how frustrated they must feel. Skowhegan is like any other town that was not on the list: our “hit” will come next year as projects in the next budget will surely be pushed off to a later date in order to make room for the work dropped this summer.
I, like many others, fear that things are only going to get worse in the times ahead. That is why I am glad that we have a third tool in the box – the MBTA. As a non-partisan organization that advocates for a safer, more efficient transportation system in Maine, the MBTA brings knowledge and expertise to the table that can really make the case for investment in our transportation infrastructure. It also serves as a unified voice that represents Maine’s municipalities, businesses, safety advocates and private citizens.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day matters that we all face and forget to keep our eyes on the bigger picture. Maine cities and towns need to be on the front line of that bigger picture fight in the months and years ahead as our state legislators and congressional representatives work toward funding solutions. And MBTA is here to help keep us informed and provide us with a powerful and unified voice.
A bold plan to repair a crumbling section of I-295 pays off, thanks to MaineDOT planning, contractors’ hard work, lucky timing and the cooperation of neighboring towns, the Turnpike and the driving public.
By Kathryn Buxton
At first mention, the idea seems unimaginable. Shut down an 18-mile southbound section of interstate three months when Maine’s tourism season and summer traffic is at its peak. Then reroute the interstate traffic to the Maine Turnpike and U.S. Route 201, a sleepy two-lane highway.
This summer, that was just what MaineDOT did to launch the first phase of much needed repairs to a crumbling section of I-295 between Gardiner and Brunswick. And now, at project’s end, what seemed like a big gamble is being hailed as a major construction success story, thanks to Pike Industries and the team of contractors the firm assembled for the project. Crews put in 16-hour days and worked through weekends and holidays. They also coped with a seemingly endless progression of rain-soaked days in July that threatened to throw the project off schedule.
MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole had high praise for the company that pulled the project off and finished well ahead of schedule. “They worked long hours, because we knew the public was depending on us to get in and get out of this corridor and do the job right,” said Cole when he announced the section of I-295 was reopening 20 days early.
The idea to shut down the section of I-295 was first posed in December 2007 as MaineDOT looked ahead to the construction season and a vexing problem: how to repair the crumbling concrete surface of I-295.
The section of highway between Gardiner and Topsham, first built in the early 1970s of concrete, looked and drove okay. But just below the surface, the concrete was disintegrating. Under normal circumstances, it would take three years to reconstruct those two travel lanes, but the condition of the highway made the situation dire. In a public meeting to discuss concerns about the closure with towns in the corridor, MaineDOT’s Joyce Taylor was blunt.
“At the rate the concrete is falling apart, we may be in a situation where we have to close it down anyway,” said Taylor, assistant bureau director of project development, speaking to about 100 concerned residents from Richmond, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham in mid-March. In other words, something had to be done and soon.
The plan to reconstruct the 18-mile section of southbound section of I-295 began to take full shape in early 2008. That was when a team of MaineDOT personnel led by Jamie Andrews, the department’s project manager, sat down to “see if it would be possible . . . if all of the stars would align to give us the opportunity,” according to Taylor.
By the time MaineDOT started meeting with town officials, emergency personnel and local residents a few months later, the stars had begun to align. The department had funding – an estimated $30 million of mostly federal money. It also has a project design that would allow the work to be done quickly – in less than three months rather than the typical nine months required for a job of this size. The timeline was an ambitious one, but speed was essential.
“Money is so tight right now,” said Taylor who explained that the speed of the project would save the department millions of additional dollars needed if the reconstruction extended over years instead of months. It was, as Taylor describes it, a “one-shot chance.”
Helping to make sure the stars did align and the department could embark on the ambitious reconstruction project required the cooperation of everyone involved.
Brad Foley, director of MaineDOT’s safety office, coordinated the design of the detour. Of the estimated 1,800 vehicles an hour using southbound I-295, MaineDOT estimated that at least 30 percent – those traveling through to the Portland area – would opt to travel on the Maine Turnpike. MaineDOT believed the remaining vehicles would opt to travel on Route 201, a two-lane state highway that runs almost parallel to I-295 through Gardiner, Richmond, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham.
For its part, the Maine Turnpike Authority reworked its summer bridge construction schedules to accommodate the anticipated increase in traffic.
The Authority had both bridge construction and paving projects planned, but quickly took steps to rearrange project schedules to reduce the chance of traffic delays. The Authority also offered detoured drivers E-ZPass devices on a short-term loan to give them the opportunity to pay tolls electronically.
Preparing Route 201 for the detour also required considerable work. MaineDOT’s Foley, a resident of Bowdoinham, knows Route 201 well. He recognized the challenge was going to be one of avoiding the clash of two driving cultures – the fast-moving drivers used to high speed travel on I-295 and local residents who were used to a slower pace. Those big differences in speed, said Foley, had the potential to cause big backups.
Signage was key: MaineDOT beefed up informational signs along the detour route to more clearly identify cross streets and remind drivers that they were in a work zone. One idea that came out of the meetings with local emergency responders was to have signs counting down the mileage to help reduce driver frustration. Lighting at key intersections also was enhanced. MaineDOT’s Maintenance and Operations Office led by David Allen completed all of the prep work on a tight schedule during the days leading up to the closure.
Local law agencies also were enlisted to make sure detour speed limits were enforced. That kept traffic moving smoothly.
“Law enforcement was very present,” said Foley. Those patrols not only kept detoured traffic from speeding, they also helped keep local traffic up to speed.
While work preparing the project detours – including repaving a major section of I-295 just south of the project area – began more than a month earlier, reconstruction of the highway began in earnest at midnight on June 15.
That was when project contractor Pike Industries set up barricades closing off the highway. Crews set to work almost immediately, breaking up the old concrete surface and rubblizing the concrete underneath. The project design called for Pike to recycle 100 percent of the old concrete in the building of the new road. The three-inch top layer was milled and used in the shoulders. The remaining six inches of concrete pavement was rubblized and used as the base for the new asphalt surface.
Jim Hanley of Pike Industries said that by recycling the old concrete, Pike was able to eliminate hundreds of truck trips on local roads that would have been required to haul away the old concrete and bring in base materials for the new road. That saved wear and tear on local roads, and reduced project costs at a time when fuel prices were skyrocketing.
Without traffic to contend with, work proceeded at a blistering pace. Crews from Pike and project subcontractors worked long days, holidays and weekends to get the job done by the end of August. The rubblizing and concrete milling were completed by July 4. As paving got underway, Pike closely coordinated the work of crews and subcontractors to make sure that daylight hours were used to their fullest. Working efficiently was particularly important because heavy rains hampered production during much of the summer.
Hanley said that as soon as Pike’s paving crews finished a section of highway and Shaw Bros. finished work on the shoulder, Maine Line Fence was there installing the new guardrail.
“We literally pushed each other right up through and out the end of the project,” said Hanley, who had nothing but praise for everyone who worked on the project.
“Cianbro and Shaw Bros. were excellent as far as the progression and Maine Line Fence was right on our heels the whole way,” said Hanley. He had high praise for Pike crews, as well, and the small army of independent truckers who hauled asphalt for the job.
In all, Pike crews and subcontractors put down 181,000 tons of asphalt, rebuilt five bridges and installed seven miles of guardrail over the course of the project. They completed the job 20 days ahead of schedule on August 9. (The contract included a $2 million incentive for Pike for completing the job ahead of schedule.)
Most of all, Hanley said everyone involved played a role in keeping the job safe. “I just can’t say enough about the men and the women working on this job. Everyone went the extra mile and kept up the quality and worked safely throughout,” said Hanley. He noted that there were “virtually no safety problems” – despite the long hours required by the expedited construction schedule.
Safety on the Route 201 detour was also a major concern for MaineDOT. And at project’s end they were able to announce that thanks to the planning and cooperation from local law enforcement and the public, Route 201 had experienced the safest summer since 2003. Project planners also credit the Maine Turnpike with helping to provide a safe and efficient alternative. At the outset of the project, approximately 30 percent of the traffic was expected to use the turnpike; by the end, that number had climbed to 50 percent.
Taylor and Foley said the timing of the project couldn’t have been better in many ways, despite the rain and local concerns about safety. For one, Taylor said an early start to the project meant MaineDOT was able to avoid the worst of the dramatically increasing asphalt prices that have plagued many other paving projects this summer and led to the postponement of projects throughout the state. On the other hand, traffic on the detours may have benefited from the sharp decrease in driving witnessed across the country as a result of high gas prices. Still, MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole gave credit to the cooperation of the driving public and the municipalities within the corridor.
“In an era where we have shrinking resources, working with communities and impacted parties to accelerate projects means we can get it done cheaper, faster and safer,” said Cole. He said that is “good for communities” and reduces the disruption of people’s daily lives.
The project even received kudos from Representative Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham), who in the spring had questioned the safety of the MaineDOT plan. “I want to congratulate Commissioner David Cole and his entire crew (Brad Foley, Joyce Taylor and every department employee involved) for their hard and effective work,” wrote Berry in a letter to the Kennebec Journal a few days after I-295 reopened. He also recognized Pike Industries, local citizens and emergency personnel for their roles in the successful completion of the project.
With the southbound section of I-295 complete, MaineDOT has turned its focus to the northbound lanes within the same corridor, another 20-mile stretch of two-lane concrete highway badly in need of replacement. Officials are mulling their options. Will they again shut down the highway and divert traffic to Route 201 and the Maine Turnpike? Or will they shift northbound traffic to one lane of the newly rebuilt southbound section of highway?
Both options have different issues in regard to safety and project design, said MaineDOT’s Foley. Traffic is heavier northbound, and access to good detour routes like U.S. Route 201 is not as easy. MaineDOT will tackle these and other issues in the coming year, because reconstruction of the highway would not likely begin until 2010 or later.
“The good news is that we’ve built up some good will,” said Foley. He noted that good will could help as the department continues to work with local officials to determine the best, most efficient and safest plan for the northbound I-295 reconstruction.
Cast and crew
Pike Industries won the bid for the $28.5 million project. The Westbrook-based contractor oversaw the entire project that included rubblizing of the 18-mile stretch of two-lane highway, reconstruction of five bridges, rebuilding and paving of the highway and installation of new guardrail. While Pike managed the project and Pike crews paved the highway, several subcontractors also contributed to the project, including:
- Cianbro Corporation: bridge deck reconstruction
- Shaw Bros. Construction Inc.: shoulder grading and drainage
- Castonguay Logging: clearing
- Dirigo Slipform: curb resetting
- Fine Line Paving & Grading: bridge deck sealing
- L & D Safety Marking Corporation: striping
- Maine Line Fence Co. Inc.: guardrail
- Nicom Coatings Corp.: crack and joint sealing
- A. D. Rossi Corporation: waterproof membranes (bridges)
The perfect storm
A combination of market forces brings Maine’s transportation system to an historic crossroads
Ask anyone in the transportation field about the challenge of budgeting the funds to maintain Maine’s highways and bridges, and you likely will get the same answer: “We’ve never seen anything like this before.” What engineers and planners are referring to is a perfect storm of circumstances that has arisen during recent months: high fuel prices, skyrocketing construction costs, a financial market meltdown and a downturn in vehicle miles driven.
At MaineDOT and the Maine Turnpike Authority, those circumstances have made efforts to program highway maintenance and reconstruction projects challenging at best. The first dramatic outcome from this market turbulence was MaineDOT’s announcement in late August that it was suspending its 2008 paving program due to fast-escalating asphalt prices – liquid asphalt prices had climbed from $307.50 per ton in January to $765 per ton in early August.
Rising construction costs “did kind of catch us by surprise,” said MaineDOT Deputy Chief Engineer Ken Sweeney. “I don’t know if anybody could have predicted the run-up in prices that we experienced earlier this year.” By August 12, when the department made its announcement, escalators built into MaineDOT paving contracts had kicked in, causing the state to burn through $105 million of its planned $107 million paving budget for the 2008 season. In a typical season, the department puts aside $3 million for contingencies such as contract escalators. This past summer, Sweeney estimated, there were between $10 million to $20 million in overruns associated with increased costs for asphalt and fuel.
Sweeney said that the decision to shelve $13.6 million in paving projects – representing about 85 miles of highway – is part of a wait-and-see strategy. By mid-September, liquid asphalt had dropped to about $712 dollars per ton and was likely to fall more by year’s end. Still, Sweeney believes that wherever prices end up, they will be much higher than they were in January 2008: how much higher is the big question.
“We don’t know if we now have a new bottom…whether $750 a ton is going to be the new price or whether it will go down more and stay down,” said Sweeney.
While MaineDOT’s Sweeney talks about “a new bottom,” Maine Turnpike Authority Chief Operations Officer Peter Merfeld describes his agency’s work to establish “a new baseline” as it adjusts to higher maintenance costs.
The budget issues facing MaineDOT are mirrored at the turnpike, although the turnpike’s situation has been amplified in the short term by a drop in highway travel. In August alone, travel was down by 6 percent; the first two weeks of September showed an even sharper decline. With falling traffic comes falling revenue, and even though the typically conservative organization had planned for only moderate traffic growth (+2 percent), it is now faced with decreasing revenues for the first time in its 61-year history. That has led the authority to trim its 2008 and 2009 operating budgets significantly.
While some of those savings have come from streamlining operations, E-ZPass efficiencies and the reduction of staffing through attrition, the authority also has reduced the scope of several projects, according to Merfeld. “We’ve eliminated some contingencies and are only doing what we need to get done,” said Merfeld.
That means the authority will continue to repair and replace its aging stock of bridges in the northern section of the turnpike – bridges that were built before the advent of the interstate and modern bridge design standards. But in many cases, the emphasis will be on repairing bridges rather than rebuilding them.
“We’re looking at them and saying ‘Is this a safety hazard?’ and if not, we’re not spending the money,” said Merfeld. He also noted that a $2 million reconstruction project planned for a 1.5-mile section of road in Wells this fall has been sidelined. Instead, Merfeld said, contractors will lay down a maintenance layer of asphalt that will buy some time before that piece of road can be rebuilt. The retooled price for that project? Approximately $100,000.
While cost-cutting has helped ease some budget pressures, “there’s only so much we can do without reducing levels of service,” said Merfeld. (He was quick to add that the announcement this fall that the turnpike was planning to delay widening of the highway in Portland was not a budget-driven decision. That is, he said, a function of lower than projected traffic volumes.)
In the coming months, as the authority and the legislature look ahead to 2010, the authority envisions an operating budget that is likely to be lower than the one approved for 2009 due to the drop in revenues. This is what Merfeld calls a “new baseline” with high energy prices continuing to place upward pressures on operating and maintenance costs – and keeping traffic and revenues trending down. As revenues drop though, and energy prices continue to climb, the turnpike may have to enact additional cuts in other areas .
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” said Merfeld. “At best right now, it’s a guessing game and we’re looking at a new baseline – not necessarily a worst case scenario – but keeping in mind that energy costs are not likely to go down” to pre-2008 levels.
Still, unlike MaineDOT, the turnpike is structured on a business model with a board of directors and a charter that protects the investment of its bondholders. That charter was approved by the Maine Legislature in the 1940s, and throughout the years it has served to protect the safety and efficiency of the highway. “The turnpike is part of the interstate system and even though traffic is down this year, we have to remember that millions of people and businesses rely on this road. We have to maintain this highway to a reasonable standard. We don’t have a choice,” said Merfeld.
Maintaining Maine’s highways is the goal at MaineDOT as well, and Sweeney expressed hope that the department would be able to resume its paving program next year. He said the department, though, will be keeping a close eye on asphalt prices and, if they rise again, will be ready to adjust its paving programs accordingly. “If the price [of liquid asphalt] jumps to $900 or $1,200 per ton, we’ll be in the same predicament,” said Sweeney. “We only have so much money.”
In it for the long haul. Harold Bouchard and the trucking company he founded.
By Doug Rooks
Harold Bouchard grew up as part of a farming family in Wallagrass Plantation, but from his earliest years he knew he was bound for another line of work. “I always had a desire for wheels,” he said in a recent interview at the company’s headquarters in Hampden. ”I used to look out the window of my grade school classroom at all the trucks going by, and it excited me.”
After two-and-a-half years in high school, he was ready for a job and lined up a snowplowing contract for that winter, back in 1956. “It didn’t snow much that winter,” Bouchard said, but he was undeterred. Soon, with some family help with his first truck, he was doing construction hauling at Loring Air Force Base. By 1958, he was ready to leave the farm and went to Bangor to work for two weeks for J. R. Cianchette. From there, he never looked back. Fifty years later H. O. Bouchard, Inc. remains in the Bangor region and has been based in Hampden for 41 years.
A half-century in trucking is quite an achievement, particularly in a business that has seen more than its share of challenges and upheavals over that period.
H. O. Bouchard is one of the most successful haulers in Maine, with a third generation of the family coming along to provide management and continuity. In the interview that included his son, Brian – now company president – Harold reminisced about the last five decades, and how he survived oil price shocks, deregulation and the rise and fall of numerous Maine industries to build a stable and diversified company.
It wasn’t always easy. In 1972, the Golden Road opened to supply enormous quantities of pulpwood to the Great Northern mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket, then at the height of their production. Harold still has a painting of one of the monster rigs used on the private road, capable of hauling 500,000 pounds of wood stacked more than 16 feet high.
H. O. Bouchard got one of the hauling contracts, but there were problems. “It took time to learn how to drive those trucks,” recalled Brian Bouchard.
The following year was when the first and most severe oil price shock occurred after the OPEC boycott, with enormous impacts on the trucking business. By 1974, H. O. Bouchard was struggling and when Harold went to the bank, he found there was no more credit.
Fortunately, bankers at Merrill Trust took a different view, extended a loan, and the financial crisis passed with the help of some close friends. But Harold took away two lessons that he has applied ever since: Diversify as much as possible, and don’t jump at the first thing that comes along.
Reflecting on the tumultuous 1970s, which almost bankrupted his company but then saw it become established for good, Harold said, “Those were beautiful years. They were tough, but beautiful. There was a new story all the time.”
H. O. Bouchard is still the name of the company’s trucking operations; wood hauling on and off-road is handled by Comstock Woodlands, a logging and road building company that operates off the Golden Road, some 70 miles from Millinocket in the deep north woods of Maine. In all, the company has 150 employees, with 115 in H. O. Bouchard and 35 in Comstock Woodlands Corp.
Harold says he’s never had an outside salesman and has never needed one. When an opportunity came along he liked, he took it.
The company’s reputation for reliability was so impeccable that other business owners trusted him implicitly.
When Irving Oil decided to stop using company drivers to haul heavy fuel oil – “black oil” – to the Woodland mill, the company president visited Harold’s office and told him what he had in mind.
“He threw the keys on the desk, and said we should start Monday,” Harold said. They did.
Brian notes that transporting hazardous materials has become a highly regulated business, and keeping up with the need for trained drivers and certificates in both the United States and Canada has provided numerous new opportunities.
H. O. Bouchard, for instance, is now the primary hauler of liquid asphalt in Maine, a vital ingredient in all highway paving and reconstruction jobs around the state. Prices have more than doubled during the current construction season, from $307 to $765 a ton, though, and Maine DOT announced the end of its annual program months early.
“It looks like we’ll be seeing December [the usual seasonal end] by September or October this year,” Brian said.
H. O. Bouchard doesn’t usually take new products all at once. With liquid asphalt, “we tried it with one truck,” said Brian, back in 1992. “We wanted to make sure it would work the way we thought it would.”
The emphasis on diversification paid dividends early on. When hauling in the Great Northern woods shut down in each year, H. O. Bouchard could move its crews over to flatbed hauling to keep them busy during mud season.
Another major contract, also taken up just because they were asked, is hauling for Dragon Cement in Thomaston. That piece of business now involves more than 25 trucks.
On the wall of Harold’s office is a sign reading, “It Can Be Done.” It’s a saying he never seems to doubt.
The truck fleet now numbers 100, including 20 subcontractors. About 50 trucks are based in Hampden, with most of the rest elsewhere in Maine. Once the company started growing, it expanded rapidly.
“You bought five trucks in the first 10 years,” Brian comments to his father. “Now we buy 15 almost every year.”
The second generation to join the business, Brian Bouchard worked his way up in the company step by step, beginning at age 13, “when I was sweeping the floor.” Work in the parts department and as a mechanic’s assistant was next. He’s done his share of driving, and still has a Commercial Driver’s License, but he also had worked in all aspects of the company, including traffic manager for the dispatch department.
In 2000, with Harold in ill health, Brian took over as president, and he runs the company in a similar manner, if with a slightly more understated style.
Brian’s son Jeffrey, who’s now earning his MBA at Quinnipiac University and intends to return to the company, represents the third generation. He operated an excavator for Comstock the past three summers. “He has this thing for excavators,” said Harold. His grandson is a talented golfer, but “his clubs are in the closet. He’s put it aside” to spend more time with heavy machinery.
Brian’s other son, Jason now works for Hughes Brothers construction. He has a passion for trucks like his grandfather. Jason is gaining valuable experience away from the family business with the hopes to return to H. O. Bouchard some day.
Like Brian, both sons have started at a very young age and have learned lessons along the way. Jason has two sons, Christopher and Jonathan that could represent the fourth generation at H. O. Bouchard. This makes “H. O.” a great grandfather, and he smiles every time he talks of his great grandsons.
Throughout the years, the Bouchards have been generous with their time and support for good causes. Hampden Town Manager Susan Lessard said that Harold has been a leader in the town for years, giving generously of time, resources and funding for community causes – particularly for causes that benefit children.
“Harold is very respected here, and H. O. Bouchard is known as a good employer and a good citizen,” said Lessard. She said that every year, the company provides drivers and trucks for the Hampden’s Children’s Day parade; the company also has donated use of the sports fields on its land on Coldbrook Road for years. Lessard said that Brian Bouchard has continued that tradition of support, and last year, the firm helped complete the holiday lights fundraising, so holiday decorations could reach all the way out Route 9 to the town offices.
Even more important to the town is the fact that H. O. Bouchard chooses to keep its company headquarters in the town. “They are a big company and they could choose to be anywhere,” said Lessard. That commitment to making Hampden home and being a good employer, she said, is the “underpinning of the community” and helps keep Hampden healthy.
Like most successful companies, H. O. Bouchard has invested heavily in new technology. GPS systems track the fleet through the Northeast and Canada, and the company has governed the trucks to ensure that drivers don’t exceed 65 mph.
“It’s saved us a quarter mile per gallon,” Brian said. “That may not sound like much, but at today’s prices that’s $285,000” a year in savings.
Despite their willingness to accept new opportunities, the Bouchards aren’t willing to jump in just because other firms are. Harold recalls the experience of the biomass boilers of the 1980s, and their abrupt shutdown when oil prices plunged after their highs in the 1970s. “We had to invest $600,000 for each chipping machine,” he said. It’s not the kind of decision he makes lightly.
So while wood pellets may be a significant trucking opportunity in the near future, H. O. Bouchard is taking a wait-and-see approach at the moment. “It all depends on the price of oil,” Harold said. “It could stay this high, or it could go down to $70 or $80” a barrel.
Over time, Brian said, the company’s biggest challenge is “not to lose focus on what’s made us what we are today.” Trucking companies that are too specialized run the risk of following a particular industry into oblivion. Yet making sure new opportunities are solid ones is another test that has to be faced almost every year.
H. O. Bouchard also benefits, Brian said, from having a particularly dedicated group of employees and dedicated managers. All the department heads have been with the company for at least 15 years, with some having as much as 35 years of experience.
Outside the modest administrative office at the Hampden headquarters – a 500-acre parcel located just off I-95 – the restored B-Model Mack, Truck No. 2 greets visitors. “Yes, that was his second truck,” said Brian about his father. “We want to be able to share this truck with all that visit our facility.”
As the big rigs move in and out of the yard, drivers will thus get a daily reminder of just what H. O. Bouchard was all about in the early years.
H. O. Bouchard, Inc. prides itself on the dedicated professionals that come to work there each and every day along with loyal customers that respect what the company represents. “We want to be the best and safest at what we do, and we work hard at it,” said Brian.