Route 26 reconstruction awaits money

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OXFORD – An overhaul of two miles of Route 26 has been plotted out, the engineering plans designed, and everything looks good to go, except for the funding.

“The project is based only on whether we get money for the next work plan (in 2008 and 2009),” Heath Cowan, project manager for the Maine Department of Transportation, said Tuesday night at a public hearing at the Oxford town office. “If this is a project that everyone supports, you need to encourage your representatives and senators to fight for your project.”

The cost to improve the two-mile stretch roughly between Burlington Homes and Skeetfield Road is estimated at $5.4 million. Work would include widening shoulders, adding a center lane to allow turning vehicles to get out of traffic, and straightening Roller Rink Road at the intersection with Route 26.

Eighty percent of the funding will be federal, 20 percent will come from the state. Because 63 property owners will be affected, Cowan said $860,000 has been budgeted to buy rights of way.

Brett Doney of the Growth Council of Oxford Hills said at the meeting that the chance of funding is slim. The project was up for funding in the 2006-2007 work cycle, but failed to make the cut. A lobbying group called the Route 26 Corridor Coalition is trying to attract road money to this arterial, rather than to new highway projects lawmakers prefer to fund, he said.

“If we can show this project can help us with economic development, that’s a leg up,” Cowan said, adding that the improved safety will be a factor in convincing commissioners to finance the project.

Several months ago, the Maine Department of Transportation announced it had to defer $130 million in road construction projects in communities across the state due to higher construction costs and the federal government’s new transportation funding system that impacted cash flow.

Route 26 has been listed as the fifth most congested highway in the state.

The road project has been designed with the future projection of 18,000 vehicles a day driving that stretch of road in 10 years. About 12,000 vehicles a day travel along this section now.

Funding announcements for 2008 will be made next year, Cowan said.

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