SHERMAN STATION — The doubters said it couldn’t be done. On Tuesday, members of the Route 11-212 Corridor Committee, together with local, county and state officials, gathered to prove otherwise.
A ceremony was held on the front lawn of Katahdin Elementary School to mark the beginning of the rebuilding of 48 miles of the two roads by 2000. It is a project that has been described as unprecedented.
It was 19 months ago when the committee was formed to see what could be done about the problem of the two roads being posted with weight restrictions for trucks for as long as six months a year.
A survey by the Northern Maine Development Commission showed that the postings were costing the western Aroostook County economy $8.5 million a year.
At the first meeting, in January 1996, the committee was told that the project on Route 11 alone would cost more than $32 million — $1 million per mile — and take at least six or more years to do.
“Sometimes, it would have been real easy to quit,” said Dan Levesque of J.P. Levesque & Sons in Ashland and vice chairman of the corridor committee.
But no one quit, and the project, with Route 212 added, was expanded to include 48 miles.
What is more, it will cost only $16 million, all of it funded by the state, and it will be done in half the time.
“We were pretty relentless,” said Candy Roy, town manager for Oakfield, Smyrna and Merrill and chairman of the committee. “We didn’t have time to wait.”
Roy praised the state Department of Transportation for its willingness to listen and respond whenever the committee had a question, and for its willingness to explore ways to get the project done for less, such as recycling pavement and gravel from other projects.
State Sen. Mike Michaud, D-East Millinocket, pushed hard for the project at the state level.
“It’s about time,” he said Tuesday, praising Roy, Levesque and others whom he said fought tirelessly for the project. “They did a real convincing job that this project should be fully state funded.”
State Transportation Commissioner John Melrose also spoke Tuesday, referring to the project as “a proud accomplishment in many ways” for both the committee and the state.
He said the committee’s efforts helped the state develop a new reconstruction philosophy that addresses the problems of individual sections of roads rather that using a one-size-fits-all approach.
The commissioner went on to say that in a time when it is often said that the public is apathetic, that certainly wasn’t the case with the corridor committee.
“There isn’t any apathy on Route 11,” he said. “It’s been go, go, go all the way.”
At the state level, he said, the magnitude of the project can be best demonstrated by the fact that during the last biennium only about 40 miles of highway were rebuilt in the entire state. To have one project alone be more than that was unprecedented.
The accomplishments of the Route 11-212 Corridor Committee “has really caught the attention of a lot of people around the state,” he said, predicting that more committees would be formed to work closely with the state on other projects.
Roy also praised members of the trucking industry who helped fight for the project. She said they will see a major benefit when the road is no longer posted after 2000.
“All of you in the trucking industry who worked on this have a lot to be proud of,” she said. “We hope this project levels your playing field.”
Several truck drivers were present Tuesday.
“It’s nice to see it getting off the ground and getting started,” said Greg Nevers of Oakfield, before the ceremony. It was Nevers who earlier this year took Gov. Angus King for a ride down Routes 11 and 212 in a tractor-trailer truck so that King could see firsthand what the roads were like.
“We never got our fair shake before,” added truck driver Frank Landry Jr. of Patten, as construction equipment ripped dug up pavement behind him. “This is the start of something.”