Connecting with the Caribou Connector
Bypass project wraps up after decades of planning and debate
The new $20 million, 3.8-mile-long, four-lane Caribou Connector, linking Route 161 and Route 1 south of Caribou, is now complete and open to vehicular, foot and bicycle traffic. The new stretch of highway that diverts heavy and commercial traffic away from the Caribou central business district was opened on August 17.
The Caribou Connector features several highway design innovations, including a “critter crossing” for wildlife, advanced drainage technology to meet environmental regulations and a “bridge-in-a-backpack” composite bridge technology developed at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. The project was constructed in two sections by two design-build teams led by Soderberg Construction Company and Sargent Corp. The Soderberg team built the one-mile section that included the composite bridge spanning a recreational trail. The Sargent team designed and built the 2.8 mile section of highway that runs west of Caribou city center and connects to Route 1, as well as with routes 89 and 161.
Before opening the route to cars and trucks, MaineDOT and the city’s parks and recreation department invited officials, roller skiers, skateboarders, scooter-riders, walkers, cyclists and others to try out the new road.
“We thought it would be a good idea before the road opens to vehicular traffic if people had the opportunity to go over it at a slower pace,” Kathy Mazzuchelli of Caribou Parks and Recreation told The Bangor Daily News. “This will give folks a chance to see some of the new technology used in the construction. . . These are things you might not see when you cross it at 50 miles per hour.”
The new road is an example of transportation engineering and construction at its best, according to those who spoke at the celebration.
“This is construction using new innovation,” Ken Murchison, Caribou’s mayor, said. “It is clear to me we have set the standard for excellence in terms of transportation construction right here in Caribou.”
Developed at UMaine to be used for short-to-medium length spans, the high tech “bridge in a backpack” replaces traditional concrete and steel construction with a lightweight, corrosion-resistant, portable carbon-fiber tube structure. It’s designed to double a bridge’s structural lifespan and significantly reduce construction time and repair costs, according to Emergency Management magazine.
The connector also represents a major improvement in highway safety by routing heavy trucks and other through-motorists around downtown Caribou and away from three “high-crash-danger” intersections, Bern-hardt said.
The first motorized vehicles to make the trip were 30 or so antique and vintage autos that travelled from Route 161 to Route 89 and back.
“This connector is important for the quality of life here and important for economic development and commerce,” said Bernhardt.
Funded jointly by the state and federal governments, the route was designed to minimize effects on existing downtown businesses and on agricultural operations. The Caribou Connector was recommended as part of a larger Aroostook County Transportation Study, that was the culmination of more than 30 years of public input and debate on transportation enhancements for Caribou and Presque Isle.
Work started on the road in 2010. Its route circumvents downtown Caribou and begins just south of the Caribou Country Club on Route 161. It heads east, passing over Route 1 and again over Route 89 and continues west until it connects with routes 1 and 89 south of Bennett Drive.
Entrance and exit ramps are in place leading to and from Route 1, locally called Van Buren Road.