We are traveling down the road of controversy, as a plan for a cross-Maine transportation route gets rolling. Now in the infant stages of planning, this $2 billion project has been a topic highly argued since the 1930’s. An east-west highway, in the central part of the state, could help the Maine economy, but some believe this could be our own highway to hell.
The 22o-mile private toll road affects several parts of Maine, including areas that use to flourish with the mill and factory jobs. Due to the economy taking a nose dive off the high board, this particular part of the state could benefit from the jobs the highway creates. Although there is no timeline of construction, the temporary jobs a large project would create, could be enough for many Mainers to dig themselves out of the hole. At that point, they could move to a more economically rewarding place, or help to continue the expansion of Central Maine. That is IF the plan guarantees that Mainers get first dibs on the jobs, and not the out of state contractors the state often hires. The new highway would also create a shortcut for Canadian goods going from the Maritime Seaport to Quebec and create more tourism for all areas involved.
Those who appose the east-west corridor project have come up with other ways to compromise, such as upgrading existing east-west rail lines. Some say this will be less intrusive and less of an environmental impact. In the plans that have been released to the pubic, it states that no conservation areas or protected areas would be bisected by the road. Peter Vigue, chairman and CEO of Cianbro Corp., “This is a work in progress and we are assessing every mile,” he said. Many will argue that damaging Maine’s beauty could be hurtful to the image that Maine represents, as a woodsy, slower lifestyle that so many know and love. A lot of the people against the highway, are the same ones who did not want the casinos in Maine.
Robert Morrison, of Charleston, in Penobscot County, said the scope of the project leaves the possibility open to an oil pipeline that would run alongside the highway. “Would you want a partner that kept secrets from you? Particularly a partner that had tried to deceive you for a year or more?” he asked legislators. He makes a very good point there, considering there have been many details not released to the public.
Bruce Van Note, deputy commissioner of the Maine DOT, said the east-west corridor proposal is currently a private project, outside the scope of the law. This allows the department to participate in public-private partnerships. There has never been an application to the department for any public-private partnership. Van Note and Peter Mills, executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, said allowing public view of partnership documents in projects’ first stages would render the public-private program meaningless. Does this mean our concerns and opinions are meaningless?
Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said his bill, L.D. 721, was not specifically about the east-west highway, but was aimed at fostering more informed community discussions of major transportation projects. The bill would remove the DOT’s authority to restrict public access to records from transportation projects with an “initial capital cost” of $25 million or more, or when the project would establish tolls on roads that were previously toll-free.
As the most expensive development project in state history, there is a lot of research to be done. Last year, the Legislature directed the DOT to conduct a $300,000 economic feasibility study of the highway. Governor Paul LePage, a supporter of the project, slowed the study last year after a Republican senator’s constituent raised some concerns. Van Note said the DOT has spent “a few thousand dollars” to draft a request-for-proposal to conduct the study, which drew no response. There is a large difference in $300,000, and “a few thousand dollars,” you can ask anyone who makes less than $2000 a month.
There are so many questions still left on the minds of Mainers as we inch closer to a possible 220 mile expansion. In a time where the state is so far in debt, can we really afford this? How long will it take to pay for itself? Will Maine workers be employed by the investors? Those questions and more are coming from all over the state.
What lane are you in when it comes to the east-west highway controversy? Are you for it, or against it? Why?
Leave your comments below and buckle your seat belt!