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Oxford County gets just 1 percent of DOT funds
OXFORD COUNTY — Oxford County is getting a slice of $764.6 million worth of work funded by the state's recently-released capital work plan for 2012 and 2013.
Unfortunately, Oxford County's slice of that pie is microscopically small.
Oxford County will receive 1.3 percent, or $10.1 million, in capital spending, most of which will go to improvements to highways and bridges.
According to 2010 census figures, Oxford County has 57,833 residents, or 4.3 percent of the state population.
Only three counties in the state will receive less attention than Oxford, those being Franklin, with $8.8 million; Knox, with about $8.9 million, and Piscataquis, with $5.6 million. All of these counties have fewer than 40,000 residents.
The amount Oxford County will see is dwarfed by the amount of money that will go into the state's wealthier counties, such as Cumberland, which will receive nearly $150 million.
The state legislature committee on transportation is chaired by Cumberland County's Richard Cebra (R-Naples). None of Oxford County's representatives are on the committee.
Representative Jarrod Crockett (R-Bethel) says that one reason Oxford County might not see a proportional amount of funding is that the county lacks the number of state road miles that many other counties have.
"When I look at a map of state roads, one thing that strikes me is that Oxford County doesn't have too many," said Crockett.
Crockett said that his own district, which straddlles both Oxford and Franklin counties, is receiving over $4 million in the plan, which is more than most representatives will see. About half of that funding will be in Oxford County.
Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) Commissioner David Bernhardt praised the package as a major source of economic support for the area.
"Over 80 percent of MDOT's capital funding supports private sector jobs in the form of construction contracts, consultant services, private equipment rental and construction materials," he said. "It will create, sustain and support over 21,000 jobs based on federal estimates."
Oxford County's $10 million is spread around the different areas of the county
Locally, Mechanic Falls and Oxford will see the benefits of $537,743 on a highway resurfacing project on Route 26, which will begin just north of Pigeon Hill Road and extend north for 3.5 miles.
A stretch of Gore Road spanning Otisfield and Oxford will get some shiny accessories, as $43,000 will be spent on the installation of reflective curve warning signs and chevrons, and some shoulder paving. The signs will be installed extending westerly from Kayla Drive for a half mile to Hidden Lake Road.
The Oxford County Regional Airport will receive $384,190 in work, as an old portion of the apron will be resurfaced.
On Route 121 in Oxford, just north of West Poland Road, $200,000 will be spent on improvements to the bridge over the Little Androscoggin River.
Paris will see a $305,000 project, in the form of a strut replacement on Route 119, a half-mile north of Halls Pond Road.
A bridge culvert will be rehabilitated on Route 219 in West Paris, to the tune of $75,000.
In Woodstock, the Bryant Pond retaining wall on Route 26 has been found to be unsafe, and will receive $300,000 in stabilization work.
A six-mile stretch of Route 232, beginning in Woodstock and running through parts of Milton Twp. and Bethel, to Rumford, will receive a $1.4 million improvement project.
Approximately 57 percent of this projected capital funding is federal, about 40 percent is state, and about 3 percent is from local and private sources, according to a release from the Maine DOT.
Elsewhere in Oxford County, Bethel's regional airport will see $463,500 in funding for an upgrade, including the construction of a general aviation terminal.
Canton will see $440,000 worth of work; Dixfield will get a cool million, not counting a $500,550 project on Route 2 between Dixfield and Mexico; Fryeburg will get $2,364,827; Grafton Township, $100,000; Porter, $1,391,965; Roxbury, $125,000; and Rumford $560,000.
District 95 is represented by Tom Winsor (R-Norway), who chairs the state appropriations committee. Winsor says that the factors that go into funding are complex, and that a fluctuation in local dollars may not be an indicator that the region is being neglected.
"We have many projects that have been previously funded, and are now being completed," said Winsor, "like the road from Harrison to Norway. Oxford County is benefiting greatly from work on Route 26 and Route 2."
The work on those roads, said Winsor, came about as a result of the Oxford delegation, which led a county-wide effort to identify the areas of highest priority.
"That was a huge fight to get the improvements here," said Winsor. "That's important that that's happened. That work has helped developments in the Sunday River area and Oxford area."
Now, says Winsor, that major push is behind them.
"Whether our general maintenance is appropriate, I'm not really sure," he said.
Winsor also says that the funding package is not yet set in stone, nor is it the final word on funding for state capital improvements projects.
"There are things that fall out. There are proposals that are not ready to go," he said. "They are proposing, as I understand it, some additional money over the current year. It's not in my committee and it hasn't come up yet."
The decisions about what projects will be prioritized are generally routed through the MDOT Commissioner.
"The way to do it is to go talk to the Commissioner and try to convince him that the roads in your district are worse than roads in other districts," said Winsor. "I think, overall, the department does a very good job of balancing needs around the state."
The Commissioner attempts to see through political posturing to identify the areas that are truly the most deserving of work, but it can be a difficult, and complex, decision.
Winsor says that Oxford County is well-positioned to lobby for local funding.
"We have some very good people in very good positions," said Winsor, but he then offered a caveat. "But so does every other county."