FORT KENT – Funding for the Canadian half of the new Fort Kent / Clair international bridge planned for next spring is “on the radar” but has not yet been approved, leading to the cancellation of last week’s public meeting in Fort Kent that was called to gather input on final plans for the bridge design.
The bridge project is still in a design phase, however the process is different in New Brunswick than in the U.S., according to Sarah Ketcheson, communications director for the New Brunswick Department of Transportation.
“We can do the design work in advance of doing the funding,” Ketcheson said. “It’s still a project that is a priority. It’s on the radar.”
The budget for the N.B. transportation department, she said, depends on which projects are getting priority – however, it will most likely only be finalized next month.
Ketcheson also said the funds are allocated year to year, but once a project is approved, the budget for that project can extend over a number of years. The capital budget for the province comes out next month, she said, and then the province will announce its projects for the coming year.
The temporary hold on N.B. funding will not affect similar projects planned for the other ports of entry in the Valley, as work is only being scheduled for the U.S. side of those border crossings.
Maine Department of Transportation Project Manager Joel Kittredge said Monday that the recent budget review in N.B. may be due to the recent elections in that province, with new ministers coming into office and being faced with challenges.
There may be a two-percent reduction in the budget, Kittredge said, and at this point, they have to look at everything.
“Everybody knows that bridge is in pretty poor shape,” said Kittredge. “We’ll be ready in April, regardless of the funding scenario.”
Kittredge contacted John Bannen, director of Economic and Community Development, on Monday, Nov. 29 to call off the planned public hearing for Tuesday, Nov. 30 in Fort Kent, due to the lack of confirmation that the other half of the price tag would be available. The hearing had been scheduled by the MDOT to seek public input on the bridge replacement and highway improvements at the intersection of the international bridge and Route 1.
MDOT planner Nathan Howard, at a business breakfast at the University of Maine at Fort Kent in mid-August, said that there are 400 bridges in Maine that are now structurally obsolete, and that obsolescence coupled with structural deficiency puts bridges higher on the priority list.
The Clair / Fort Kent bridge is one of four ports of entry that will receive upgrades, he said. The others are Van Buren, which will get a $31 million rebuild of the port-of-entry structure damaged in the 2008 flood, Madawaska, which will get a new $50 million port-of-entry station, and Hamlin, which has a $19.5 million border crossing project planned for next summer.
The Canadian funding for the project to replace the Fort Kent bridge, which was described by Kittredge in a planning meeting at UMFK last month as “functionally and structurally obsolete,” was scheduled to cover half of the nearly $11 million cost, and may still be approved by the Canadian government.
Construction on the Fort Kent bridge is scheduled to begin in spring of 2011, about 30 feet downriver from where the bridge now stands.