OAKFIELD — Just moments after climbing out of a tractor-trailer loaded with logs, Gov. Angus King pledged late Wednesday afternoon to see that Route 11 is rebuilt in four years.
“We were talking about a six-year project the day before yesterday,” King said after he traveled more than 40 miles along Routes 11 and 212 from Ashland to Oakfield with truck driver Greg Nevers of Oakfield.
“I’ve brought a promise to do it in four years, max, and sooner if we can,” governor said. “We’re going to push and get it done.”
King was in Aroostook County on a tour of various businesses, and to speak at the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce dinner and meeting Wednesday night. Part of his tour included the road trip with Nevers.
The Route 11-212 Corridor Committee pushed for the inclusion of the trip hoping King would see and feel for himself just what truck drivers have to go through every day as they haul logs, wood chips and wood products to and from western Aroostook mills.
The committee has been working for the past year to secure funding from the state to have the two roads rebuilt so that they don’t have to be posted each year with weight restrictions.
Last year the road was posted for three months. When posting is implemented, truckers can carry loads of only about 30,000 pounds, less than a third of what they normally can haul.
The result is that truckers lose money, and the mills and loggers they haul for lose money or have to pay higher shipping costs for more trips or longer routes.
A survey conducted by the Northern Maine Development Commission last year determined that with 12 weeks of posting, it costs the region an additional $8.5 million more a year to do business.
“The economy of the region cannot stand another six years like we had last winter,” said corridor committee President Candy Roy, who also serves as town manager for Oakfield, Smyrna and Merrill. Roy accompanied King on his trip with Nevers.
“We’re encouraged by the attention the project has gotten [from the state] and by the comments [the governor] made,” she said. “He definitely saw the need.”
Of the 56 miles of Route 11 from Ashland to Stacyville, the state has determined that more than 30 of them need major reconstruction work. Portions of the road near Mount Chase have not been rebuilt since 1912.
The Department of Transportation has estimated that it will cost $16 million to do the work.
“This will be the largest road construction project we have ever done in one bite,” King said as he left to tour the Katahdin Forest Products Co. in Oakfield.
“The only question is when. We’re going to do it as soon as we can.”
“It’s an important project for the region,” he said, adding that he has discussed the issue with DOT Commissioner John Melrose and Sen. Michael Michaud, D-Millinocket, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“It’s not politics. It’s something that needs doing,” said King.