MDOT Commissioner Cole is congratulated by Governor John Baldacci for transportation projects. State and federal funds will create 11,000 highway jobs in ME Photo by Ramona du Houx

By Ramona du Houx

April 7th, 2009

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is designed to stimulate the economy. What better way than to start by improving infrastructure projects around the country? In Maine, ARRA transportation funds in conjunction with other Department of Transportation projects will create 11,000 jobs.

“Governor Baldacci and state transportation officials have done an excellent job putting together a list of critical construction projects that will repair roads and bridges around the state and put Mainers back to work immediately,” said Willy Ritch on behalf of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

Within two weeks of signing ARRA, transportation projects were officially underway in Maine as construction projects went out for bid, the first of which was signed by Pike Industries for refurbishing I-295 from Brunswick to Gardner.

“By investing in transportation projects, we invest in our people and in our business, and we connect them to the markets where I know they can compete with anyone,” said Governor Baldacci. “In addition to the recovery money that will support this project and many more, Maine will be investing more than $279 million additional dollars in work that will begin this construction season.”

Construction businesses were looking at downsizing before ARRA was announced; now they are competing for different funding projects. Two bids were received for the I-295 project; Pike Industries who rebuilt the same patch of road southbound last year received the contract.

“This year we had extensive layoffs. We were looking at a pretty dismal construction season coming into 2009. Really this project gives people back the hours they expected to work, and we will be able to hire additional people,” said Jonathan Olson, Pike’s regional manager. “This gives us a lot of optimism, it’s a great thing.”

Over 95 percent of workers from last year’s I-295 project were from Maine. With estimates projected from the construction job, more than 840 jobs will be created. As soon as the snow melts construction work will begin.

“This project makes sure we get people back to work,” said the governor.

The economic benefit will help other businesses in Maine.

“We’re committed to using Maine suppliers and subcontractors whenever possible,” said Olson. That includes professional people, construction materials, dump trucks, and provisions.

MDOT Commissioner Cole said, “This is the beginning of completing a backlog of projects that are essential. The funds couldn’t have come at a better time. The jobs are all in the private sector, putting Maine people back to work.”

“The I-295 Northbound project is our top highway priority and the largest single project proposed by the Maine Department of Transportation for recovery funds,” said Baldacci. “The road was built in the early 1970s, and it is failing. Interstate 295 is a major artery. It connects people and our cities. It moves the things we make and helps bring tourists into our state.”

The recovery funds in addition to funds from other sources already allotted for transportation work projects total about $423 million in road and bridge investments for this construction season in Maine.

Last year’s I-295 job was completed twenty days early by working sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, and Pike Industries wants to replicate that process. While construction was taking place, traffic moved with relative ease along the detour route which will be utilized again. Businesses along 201 last year reported increased sales because of the added traffic.

“We’re sorry for any inconvenience this project may cause,” said Commissioner Cole. “The public can see the results from last year’s project. We’re asking for their patience once again.”

In addition to the I-295 project, Pike won a $2.5 million road reconstruction project in Dover-Foxcroft, funded by ARRA stimulus money.

Pike produces asphalt and aggregate and employs more than 1,100 workers. They have operations in Westbrook, Poland, Wells, Lewiston, Waterford, Portland, and Fairfield. It has more than 1,100 employees in New England.

ARRA stimulus funding will supplement $423 million in transportation projects that are already funded in the current fiscal year.

Federal rules require at least half of stimulus funding for transportation to be contracted for specific projects within 120 days — which is scheduled to happen along with Gov. John Baldacci’s request that the DOT commit all of the money by the end of summer.

At the end of 120 days, there may also be funds that other states don’t use, which will become available and Maine will apply for.

In addition, Maine could obtain millions more in federal grants due to stimulus funding.

Among the projects Maine might seek, additional grants are: a $6 million removal of the Waldo-Hancock Bridge in Bucksport, a $35 million extension of the Downeaster train service from Portland to Brunswick, a $60 million upgrade of Portland’s Veterans Bridge, a $12 million construction of Phase 2 of the Acadia Gateway Center in Trenton, and the replacement of three ferries.

“We will be very aggressive in pursuing those funds. We will ensure that Maine gets its fair share,” said Cole.

“I’m pleased that the governor is moving quickly on this. These projects will create jobs and help improve our infrastructure for the long term, providing a significant return for the taxpayers’ investment,” said Congressman Mike Michaud.