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The Rural Maine Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of the Betterment Fund.

Legislature mulls whether to study expanding I-95 from Houlton to Fort Kent

Route 161 in Aroostook County, which runs from Fort Kent to Caribou.
Flickr/Creative Commons
Route 161 in Aroostook County, which runs from Fort Kent to Caribou.

The Maine Turnpike Authority was given the ability to construct a highway from the bottom of York County to the top of Aroostook County when it was created in 1941. The Legislature is now considering whether to finish the task.

The 303-mile highway currently only goes as far as Houlton. Maine has studied several times before whether it is feasible to extend it to Fort Kent. Lawmakers from northern Maine are hoping to pass a new bill requiring the state to look at it again.

But in a public hearing on the measure Wednesday, Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Nina Fisher warned that such a project would not qualify for the federal funding needed.

"You've heard that this has stalled, that this isn't moving forward," she said to members of the Transportation Committee. "That's correct. It's not moving forward — the feds have determined that doesn't meet the criteria for construction."

Cost is also a factor, Fisher said. The state can get additional dollars for transportation projects from the federal government through grants and earmarks. Fisher said the highest grant she has seen for similar projects was $292 million — extending I-95 would cost an estimated $1.8 billion.

Still, supporters are hoping there is a way to make the project happen. The region's winding, rural roads can make transporting goods extremely challenging, said Twin Rivers Paper Company LLC chief operating officer Robert Harvey.

Democratic Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash argued the expansion is needed to bring economic and health care benefits to the region and preserve its rural roads.

"And I just see so much opportunity, not only for the area, but for I think the entire state of Maine," he said.

Reporter Caitlin Andrews came to Maine Public in 2023 after nearly eight years in print journalism. She hails from New Hampshire originally.