Fix It Now! profile
By John Melrose
It is no secret that Hancock County contains many attractions that draw travelers to the region. The travel numbers prove the point. County residents comprise only 4.1 percent of Maine's population, but state highways in the county carry 6.15 percent of all traffic off of the interstate. This disproportionate share of traffic means the Hancock County road network is not just locally important, it is of statewide importance. As home to Acadia National Park, Hancock County is of international interest as well.
With the county’s high profile role in Maine’s tourism industry, it comes as some surprise that highway conditions in the county are disproportionately deteriorated relative to the rest of the state. As the accompanying chart reveals, priority 1 and 2 highways, such as portions of routes 1, 1A, 3 and 9 disproportionately fall into the "D" grade category, while priority 3 highways such as Route 15 from Orland to Stonington, receive an "F" grade. The most significant factor driving these poor grades is the high incidence of crashes and the prevalence of unsafe conditions, including narrow travel ways and rutted pavement. Other issues, including pavement conditions, also contribute to the poor ranking of the region’s highways.
Improvements for ‘high priority’ highways
MaineDOT is poised to act on the worst offenders among the county’s priority 1 and 2 highways. In 2015-2016, the department has scheduled a $14 million reconstruction of Route 3 from downtown Bar Harbor heading northwest 4.8 miles. During that time, MaineDOT also plans a $6 million reconstruction of a 1.36-mile section of Route 1-A in Ellsworth, south of the Union River. MaineDOT does not currently have plans to address poor sections of Route 3 on the north end of Trenton, which has an ancient, narrow concrete surface underneath, nor does it plan to fix Route 1 leading into Ellsworth.
In regards to priority 3 highways, MaineDOT in 2014 is rehabilitating 2.53 miles of Route 46 in Holden-Dedham just south of Route 1-A for $950,000. This will complete improvements to this corridor from Route 3 to Route 1A. Left unresolved and a source of major concern is the condition of Route 15 from Orland to Stonington. Other priority 3 highways in need of work include: routes 175/166 and 166A from Route 3 to the Maine Maritime Academy (which is being addressed this year); Route 172 heading east out of Blue Hill; and routes 102/198 and 3 on Mount Desert Island.
Limited prospects for lower priority highways
Priority 1, 2 and 3 highways account for 48 percent of the state highways in Hancock County. For the rest of the state roads in the county – priority 4 and 5 highways – state policy is to perform light capital pavement treatments (formerly known as maintenance surface treatments or “skinny mix” paving) once every six years on average. Any more permanent or substantive fixes were abandoned by the Maine Legislature and Governor LePage three years ago when the decision was made to cut the 10-year capital funding gap for highways to $1.5 billion by lowering expectations for priority 4 and 5 highways. Roads in these categories include routes 186/196 on the Schoodic Peninsula, 184/204 in Lamoine, 179 and 180 connecting Ellsworth to Route 9 and a host of highways on the Blue Hill peninsula.
The decision on priority 4 and 5 highways left MaineDOT's Municipal Partnership Initiative (MPI) as the only real means left to rehabilitate or reconstruct these roads. Communities in Hancock County have heard this message. In 2014, the department's current work plan includes MPI projects in Ellsworth on Beechland Road, in Southwest Harbor on Route 102, actually a priority 3 highway, and in Tremont on Route 102. The three projects combined carry a price tag of $4.79 million and local communities are providing at least 50 percent in matching funds for these projects.
Hancock County also is home to a disproportionate share of Maine’s structurally deficient bridges. Fifteen percent of Maine bridges are rated structurally deficient, and that is worse than for the nation as a whole. In Hancock, 26 percent or 14 of the 53 county bridges 20 feet or longer are structurally deficient. The average age of these structurally deficient bridges is 70. There are six functionally obsolete bridges in the county, including the mother of all functionally obsolete structures, the Deer Isle-Sedgwick Bridge, which MaineDOT recently referred to as a "forever bridge." Scheduled in the work plan for 2015-16 is a $3 million substructure rehab project, adding to other recent investments intended to preserve this structure “forever.”
Hancock's other notable transportation services include the county-operated Bar Harbor Airport, one of only five commercial service airports in Maine. It is in line in 2014 for construction of an $875,500 partial parallel taxiway. More than $8 million in additional projects at the airport are under consideration. In 2012, the airport enplaned 10,006 passengers, six over the threshold to qualify for an additional $850,000 annual entitlement from the FAA.
The Maine State Ferry service operates out of Tremont and serves Swan's Island and Frenchboro. Generally, the facilities and vessels are in good condition. The county is also home to the Island Explorer, a seasonal bus service designed to accommodate peak traffic demands generated within and around Acadia National Park. With a fleet of roughly 40 buses, the service carried 424,000 passengers in 2013, up from 141,000 in 1999. A planned $12.5 million visitor center on Route 3 in Trenton, to be serviced by the Island Explorer, awaits final construction funding.
Prominent county bicycle and pedestrian facilities are located within Acadia National Park and on the former Calais Branch rail line. In 2915-2016, MaineDOT has programmed for a $1.4 million project to rehabilitate the rail trail from Washington Junction in the Town of Hancock to downtown Ellsworth.
The county's big deficiency for bike/ped use is found in the great lack of adequate paved shoulders throughout much of the County road network even on Route 1A in Ellsworth as the accompanying picture reveals.