AUGUSTA – Maine started putting its economic stimulus money to work Thursday, accelerating a road rebuilding project on Interstate 295 that is expected to create more than 800 jobs.

Gov. John Baldacci signed a letter of intent with Pike Industries of Lewiston to rebuild 24 miles of I-295, between Gardiner and Topsham, in the coming months. The $34 million project will be paid for with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Feb. 17. It will mirror a repaving job Pike Industries did along the same section of the highway’s southbound lanes last summer.

Baldacci said the state would not have been able to have the project done this year if it hadn’t been for the stimulus money.

The southbound lane repaving project was hailed as a success, as the often-heavy summer traffic was detoured to nearby U.S. Route 201 without major problems. That enabled the contractor to significantly shorten the project’s duration. Pike Industries also drew praise for its effort to recycle crumbling and aging concrete from the old highway and use it on the road’s shoulders.

“I firmly believe the company will match that effort this year,” Baldacci said.

The highway’s reconstruction is expected to last 20 years, he said.

Work is expected to begin as soon as the snow, more than a foot deep throughout much of the state, has melted, said Pike’s regional manager for Maine, Jonathan Olson.

The early approval of the project came as welcome news to Pike’s employees who were unsure what kind of work hours they could expect during construction season in the struggling economy, Olson said.

“This gives us a lot of optimism going into this (season),” Olson said.

“This project will put Mainers back to work,” Baldacci said, “and we all know that a good job is the best social program.”

Maine’s congressional delegation praised the effort to get work started soon after the stimulus bill was passed.

“It is vital that we get these projects under way as soon as possible, and I look forward to seeing more of these stimulus-funded project announcements soon,” Republican Sen. Susan Collins said in a statement.

Baldacci said other highway work throughout the state in the months ahead is expected to create more than 11,000 jobs. Combined federal and state funds for those projects adds up to $423 million.

“You are going to see a procession of projects over the next 120 days,” state Transportation Commissioner David Cole said.

PULLOUT:

“This gives us a lot of optimism going into this (season).”

Pike Industries regional manager for Maine, Jonathan Olson.

By the numbers: Pike Industries

1872: Year Luther M. Pike founded Pike’s Improved Concrete Co. in New Hampton, N.H.

1973: Name changed to Pike Industries Inc.

5: Number of generations of Pike family management

5 million: Tons of asphalt produced annually

8 million: Tons of agggregate produced annually

1,300: Number of employees in ME, NH, VT, MA, RI.


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