MBTA’s Fix It Now! campaign heads to Aroostook County
Improving and expanding transportation needs in Aroostook County was the focal point of some 70 attendees at the 2014 Aroostook County meeting on August 6 in Presque Isle. The transportation needs forum was co-hosted by MBTA and Northern Maine Regional Planning Commission. An afternoon session featured MBTA Senior Policy Advisor John Melrose presenting an overview of data he collected for the organization’s Fix it Now! campaign. (See page 29 of this Trails issue for John’s report).
President Jim Hanley opened the evening meeting by thanking the two meeting sponsors: Chadwick-BaRoss, Inc. and The Lane Construction Corporation, then introducing some legislative guests. In attendance were: Phil Bosse, U.S. Senator Susan Collins’ office; Sharon Campbell, U.S. Senator Angus King’s office; Barbara Hayslett, representing U.S. Representative Mike Michaud; House Chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, Charles “Ken” Theriault (D-Madawaska); Representative Robert Saucier (D-Presque Isle); and Representative Carol McElwee (R-Caribou).
President Hanley also recognized MBTA’s newest corporate member, recruited by John Sturgeon: Bridgham Engineering and Surveying, represented by owner Sharon Daigle-Gerrish and Bill Gerrish. Sturgeon is chair of the MBTA Membership Committee that ends its 2014 recruitment campaign on December 11th at the MBTA Scholarship Meeting in Orono.
Rep. Theriault moderated an evening panel discussion with four local transportation leaders. Nate Moulton, director of the Rail Program at MaineDOT, updated the group on freight rail in The County, highlighting some significant investments funded by the state, the federal government (through Senator Collins’ pursuit of TIGER grants), and the NBM Railways. Moulton also discussed how shipping traffic had quadrupled on parts of the Maine Northern Railway line, enhancing opportunities for shippers. He also provided an overview of challenges and needed improvements, including reviewing key rail bottlenecks, upgrading rail in Van Buren, and reinstating tracks to Oakfield.
Scott Wardwell, director of the Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle, described the four general aviation airports in the region: Frenchville, Caribou, Presque Isle and Houlton, noting that enplanements peaked in the late 1970s, only to drop by 50 percent following airline deregulation. Current numbers are such that if they drop much more in Presque Isle, the airport may lose $1 million in Federal Aviation funding. Wardwell also listed some projects at the four airports eligible for funding with either a 90 or 95 percent federal match.
Jay Kamm, senior planner with Northern Maine Development Commission, provided an overview of key transportation initiatives, including a collaboration with Washington County (GROWashington-Aroostook Plan), and highlighted five priority corridors in the region, including Route 1, 1-A, 161, 11 and 2. He also discussed safety and freight issues and suggested the region and the state need to come together to develop a funding source, or a combination of traditional and non-traditional transportation funding sources.