County and legislative leaders cited the importance of the Knox County Regional Airport as ground was ceremonially broken Jan. 29 for a $3.2 million terminal project.

Officials braved winds that lowered the wind chill temperature to below zero and held gold-painted shovels to mark the start of the terminal construction.

“This is a huge day for Knox County,” said Knox County Commission Chairwoman Anne Beebe-Center.

Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, agreed. She pointed out that this was the second major transportation development in a week, with the first being the announcement of a $35 million federal grant to extend Amtrak passenger rail service to Brunswick. In conjunction with that, Maine Eastern Railroad will run connecting passenger trains from Rockland to Brunswick by 2012.

State Sen. Christopher Rector, R-Thomaston, also stressed the significance of the groundbreaking.

“Transportation is the linchpin for economic development,” Rector said.

Airport Manager Jeff Northgraves said he was excited by the project.

“I’m happy we will finally be able to get out of the trailer park,” he said, referring to the modular units used for offices and the current terminal.

“The airport is a gateway to Knox County,” Northgraves said.

He said he also will be happy to have his office window face the runways and not the road.

The terminal is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Sheridan Corporation of Fairfield got the construction job with a bid of $3.2 million. George C. Hall & Sons of Rockland is the subcontractor for Sheridan on the terminal project.

The Federal Aviation Administration is paying for 90 percent of the project with the Maine Department of Transportation and the county both picking up 5 percent.

The terminal will be slightly less than 10,000 square feet and be located where the old blue Downeast terminal stands.