COBURN GORE — The border crossing here is often a quiet outpost.

In winter, passenger vehicles come down from Canada to visit Maine’s ski slopes. In summer, they head south for the beaches. But in this unorganized township in Franklin County, traffic is sparse other times.

Residents of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia sometimes cross Maine and reenter Canada through Coburn Gore, the most direct route to Montreal and points west. Commercial trucks deliver forest products and other goods regularly but hardly nonstop. During a two-hour stretch on a weekday in late March, there were never more than two cars in line for inspection, although agents there said it does sometimes get busy.

Despite its light traffic, Coburn Gore is getting an $85 million to $95 million replacement paid for by the federal government.

It’s one of 20 northern border stations across the country, including five in Maine, that received funding under the landmark 2021 infrastructure law, and it got the sixth-largest amount.


A spokesperson for the General Services Administration, which owns and manages federal buildings, said a 2018 feasibility study “determined that the (Coburn Gore) port is dated and no longer able to support (U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s) mission of securing the border.” A new facility was first pitched for funding in 2021 as an earmark from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, but then was put in the infrastructure legislation.

A truck carrying rough lumber destined for a mill in Stratton passes by a border line marker at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Coburn Gore. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Though the details are not finalized, the price tag to fix up this remote crossing station is eye-opening – much larger than most of the other projects, expensive even for the border budget, which last year was $5 billion.

Most people probably don’t know about the project. There hasn’t been any public outcry. But the infrastructure legislation as a whole has faced criticism for lacking oversight and accountability. A 2021 report by the nonpartisan Coalition for Public Integrity stressed that the spending should have robust oversight given the size and scope of projects. Without it, infrastructure projects at all levels, the report said, risk falling victim to fraud, including inflated costs, inferior materials and bid rigging.

The other projects in Maine – at stations in Fort Fairfield, Limestone, Houlton and Calais – range from $15 million to $45 million. It’s not clear why Coburn Gore costs so much more.

Neither the GSA nor CBP would provide detailed crossing data to the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics keeps monthly data for most major ports of entry, but Coburn Gore is not one of them. The GSA spokesperson shared data from 2018 that showed an average of 150 passenger vehicles and 50 commercial trucks per day, which would make it one of the least-traveled border crossings in the state. The agency declined to provide more recent numbers.

The Press Herald submitted a public records request for the data, but it was not filled as of last week.


Joshua Sewall, director of research and policy for Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonprofit national-budget watchdog, reviewed the details of the Coburn Gore project at the Press Herald’s request and said he couldn’t “discern the logic behind why that project rose above others.”

Officer Daniel Flores waves forward a car at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Coburn Gore on March 25. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Sewall said massive spending bills like the Infrastructure Act raise concerns because it’s difficult to track all the projects: “If they can’t share data and information about what went into this decision, vagueness doesn’t instill confidence for taxpayers and members of Congress.”


So, why is this sparsely used border station in the middle of nowhere getting a $95 million upgrade? And where is the money going?

The land port of entry at Coburn Gore in Franklin County is about 37 miles north of Sugarloaf at the end of Route 27. It was built in 1932 and hasn’t been significantly upgraded since.

Rob Ruddy, a station supervisor at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Coburn Gore, stands outside the station on March 25. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

It has two narrow lanes for cars and one for commercial trucks, and the building for its staff is small and cramped. Rob Ruddy, a CBP station supervisor, said during a recent tour that agents might be interviewing someone at a counter while another person in handcuffs is just a short distance away, being detained while a vehicle is searched. There isn’t a camera to read license plates. Agents have to use an angled mirror instead.


“We don’t have a cargo inspection booth for commercial (vehicles). The driver has to exit and come inside,” Ruddy said. “With a new facility, we’d be able to more expeditiously inspect our traffic.”

It isn’t clear why more space couldn’t be added and a camera installed at a much lower cost.

The 26 border crossing projects in the bipartisan infrastructure law – the Biden administration’s effort to invest in the nation’s neglected roads, bridges and government buildings – were chosen from 102 border facilities owned by GSA.

The quarters inside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Coburn Gore. The two chairs at right in the station’s entryway are the only place officers have to detain people. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Paul Hughes, the agency’s regional public affairs officer, said the stations were chosen “based on facility age and in coordination with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s security needs.”

Of the 20 projects along the Canadian border, only five are projected to cost more than Coburn Gore. All but one is at a crossing considerably busier – some have as much as eight times more traffic.

The Kenneth G. Ward port of entry in Lynden, Washington, which has been approved for $100 million in improvement funds, averages 1,187 vehicles per day. The crossing at Highgate Springs, Vermont, will receive between $150 million and $170 million to rebuild a station that averages 1,169 vehicles per day.


Of the five border stations in Maine that received funding for improvements, only Limestone sees fewer cars and commercial trucks pass through, and that crossing is just 10 miles from a busier crossing in Fort Fairfield. The Limestone project is estimated to cost between $15 million and $25 million, about a quarter of the Coburn Gore estimate.

The only U.S. border crossing less busy than Coburn Gore that received more funding in the infrastructure law is in Alcan, Alaska, although the GSA noted in public documents that, because the Alcan crossing is so remote, that project – estimated at $170 million to $190 million – will include year-round housing and services for employees.

The Coburn Gore station has housing, too, although agents don’t live in it full-time. The four small ranch-style structures directly across the street from the border facility are used intermittently by agents who live far away and are working back-to-back days or nights.

A drone photo of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station on Route 27 in Coburn Gore on the Quebec, Canada, border. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The housing could be replaced under the project, but its final scope has not been determined.

Coburn Gore, Ruddy said, is always open. It employs about 20 officers, up to six at a time.

Bob Carlton, a Franklin County commissioner who represents the area, said although the border crossing is remote, it’s still vital.


“I’ve talked to border agents up there who say it’s incredibly busy, especially commercial traffic,” he said.

Indeed, along the stretch of Route 27 north of Eustis – the last town before Coburn Gore – drivers are more likely to pass a logging or lumber truck than any other type of vehicle.

“Our commercial traffic, specifically, has always seemed to have an upward tick,” Ruddy said. “When you look, geographically, where we’re located here, we have metropolitan areas on the Canadian and the U.S. side. The most direct route is often through Coburn Gore.”

Whether or not commercial traffic has actually increased, though, is unclear because officials would not provide data.


Federal officials say improving border stations is important for public safety, even though the northern border doesn’t pose the same risks as the southern border.


And there has been an increase in detentions by border officials in Maine, even though that often happens away from crossings.

Criminal encounters through areas controlled by CBP’s Boston Field Office, which includes all of Maine, doubled from 2022 to 2023, to more than 40,000. However, the numbers were not broken down by location.

A driver gets back in his truck after checking in at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Coburn Gore. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Agents assigned to the Houlton sector, which includes most of Maine’s northern border, made 373 arrests in 2023, up from 321 the year before and 61 in 2021, although that low number three years ago was partially attributable to the pandemic.

At the state’s border crossings, including Coburn Gore, agents sometimes find drugs or weapons or other illegal contraband, but these aren’t hotbeds of criminal activity.

“Most of the illicit traffic we’re seeing is going to be in between ports of entry,” said CBP spokesperson Ryan Brissette. Maine doesn’t have any border wall or fencing, and, although roads cross borders at official ports, people seeking to enter the country illegally can sometimes find ways to avoid roads.

The Biden administration has cited commerce as one major reason to invest in bringing border crossings into the 21st century. Supply chain challenges have been persistent since the pandemic, and most goods and services pass through ports.


That’s one area in which Coburn Gore might have more importance than its remote location might suggest.

More than a decade ago, some politicians and community leaders argued that Maine needed an east-west highway that would run from Calais in the east to Coburn Gore in the west. Businessman Peter Vigue of Cianbro proposed building such a highway and operating it as a toll road, but the idea ran into widespread opposition and fizzled out.

A truck enters the U.S. at the customs station in Coburn Gore. The site was built in 1932 and hasn’t been significantly upgraded since, but the remote border station has light traffic. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Coburn Gore is not a full commercial port but what’s known as a permit port, Ruddy said. Essentially, that means businesses need prior approval, or permits, to cross, which slows things down. Some trucks, he said, opt to go through the busier station north of Jackman instead. The project will allow Coburn Gore to become a full commercial port, which may make it busier.

The Biden administration also has stressed that projects will be built using clean construction materials and state-of-the-art sustainable technologies, and 23 of the 26 – including all of those in Maine – will fully electrify standard building operations.

Many Republicans in Congress opposed the infrastructure bill or criticized elements of it, although some have changed their tune now that money is flowing into their states. In March 2022, two House Republicans asked the White House for all documents and communications related to Infrastructure Act spending and expressed concerns that projects were being steered away from traditionally Republican states and that there weren’t enough qualified workers to complete them.

While Officer Sheldon Allen stands by at right, Officer Daniel Flores checks the car rental paperwork of a woman entering the country at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Coburn Gore. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“Mainers should question everything about this project. Even before construction starts, there’s a lack of transparency and a lack of proper budget and accounting controls,” said Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of, a federal spending watchdog. “Federal officials refuse to provide basic information on the port – for example, the traffic numbers from the past year. Furthermore, the cost estimate ranges by a wide $10 million from $85 million to $95 million. Your neighborhood grocery store has tighter budget and accounting controls than this project.”


In materials stressing the need for funding, the GSA said improving border projects adds commercial, passenger vehicle and pedestrian inspection capacity and “will accommodate more traffic. This benefits the surrounding restaurants, stores, gas stations, and other businesses.”

But aside from a gas station, there are no businesses anywhere near the Coburn Gore station. And federal officials would not provide any data that might make the case that more traffic is coming.

Most of the border projects, including Coburn Gore, are still in the early stages. Last June, GSA announced an award to Dattner Architects of New York for architectural and engineering services, and last month, Texas-based Jacobs Technology was hired to manage construction at Coburn Gore.

Work is scheduled to begin in spring 2026, with estimated completion in spring 2029.

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