HOLDEN, Maine — Town councilors, saying they want to stop “further waste of state and local resources,” recently voted to oppose plans for an Interstate 395-Route 9 connector designed to improve traffic flow between the Canadian Maritimes and the Bangor area.
“There are too many issues at this time,” Town Manager John Butts said on Tuesday.
Councilors held a special meeting on Oct. 16 and unanimously voted to oppose the connector route listing as reasons the lack of state funding, issues with the 80,000-pound weight limit on federal highways and the possibility that a private toll east-west highway may be built.
When I-395 was extended to Brewer and the Veterans Memorial Bridge was constructed, much of the truck traffic that had used Route 9 in Eddington to connect from Canada to Brewer started using Route 46 as a connector, which prompted town residents to request an alternative route be built.
That request was made to the Maine Department of Transportation in 2000. Since that date, local, state and federal officials, and residents have worked to create an alternative that would get the big rigs off the rural roadway.
More than 70 alternative routes have been considered over the last eight years, and the MDOT now has five routes under consideration. Ray Foucher, Department of Transportation project manager, presented those routes to residents at a Public Advisory Committee meeting in September and asked for feedback.
“We are in the process of putting together information” gathered from the feedback, he said. “We have another PAC meeting scheduled for Nov. 19.”
That public gathering is 7 p.m. at Eddington Elementary School.
“We’ve had some suggested connections between these routes,” Foucher said. “We’re also looking at how we could make connections between I-395 and Route 1 … and interchanges.”
Funding for the planning phase of the connector project already has been allocated, he said, making that Holden item a nonissue. Construction funds have not been allocated and would not be asked for until the project is further along.
The Holden resolution also lists federal regulations that ban trucks that exceed 80,000 pounds from using the federal highway system as another reason they oppose the proposed connector route. State highways allow trucks up to 100,000 pounds.
“Even if you had the connector, you couldn’t drive a [heavy] truck on it,” Butts said. “It’s kind of a waste of money and energy at this time.”
Town residents need to know that is not the case, Foucher said.
“Our new roadway would allow 100,000-pound trucks,” he said. “This could take [truck drivers] all the way to I-395” where “they would have to get off at the first exit … that would be Parkway South.”
A good portion of the heavy truck traffic does not exceed 80,000-pounds and so could use the interconnect to get to I-95 and avoid all local roads, he said.
Congressional leaders, who have tried for years to persuade federal transportation officials to increase the heavy truck weight limits in Maine, continue to press the issue, Foucher said.
“If and when this roadway is built … there may be an opportunity at that time to make I-395 exempt” from the federal rules, he said, “to allow the trucks to at least cross the river.”
An exemption was given to MDOT officials when they finished a bypass in the Augusta area four years ago that allows heavy trucks exiting from the Maine Turnpike, which allows trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds, to use a small portion of I-95 to avoid the city’s downtown.
Big rigs, exceeding the 80,000-pound weight limit, must exit I-95 just north of the capital to access Routes 9 and 3 to make their way north.
Holden leaders also want to see if a proposed private toll east-west highway moves forward that “would solve many of the state’s current transportation needs,” the town’s resolution states.
Constructing an east-west highway in Maine has been discussed for decades, and the route actually was designated as a Congressional High Priority Corridor in 2005, but with little funding, the project has sat on the back burner. Peter Vigue, chairman of Pittsfield-based Cianbro Cos., recently has proposed building a privately owned east-west toll highway from Calais to Coburn Gore, and his company is conducting a feasibility study of the project.
“We’d like to see how this private investment proposal pans out before we put in a lot of taxpayer dollars into the [proposed connector] roadway,” Butts said.
The following is a breakdown of the MDOT’s proposed I-395-Route 9 connector routes:
— The 3EIK-2 route would extend I-395 by almost two miles along the southern side of U.S. Route 1A in Holden before turning northward, crossing Route 1A and winding through mostly unpopulated areas before connecting to Route 9 at the Clifton town line.
— The 2B2 route would extend I-395 at its current Wilson Street junction and would roughly follow the Holden-Brewer lines, mostly on the Brewer side, until entering Eddington and connect with a rebuilt Route 9.
— The 5B2E3K route would turn northward from I-395 and cut across Dirigo Drive and Wilson Street, between WalMart and Whiting Hill, and then cross Eastern Avenue and Day Road before entering Eddington and turning east and basically running parallel with Route 9 until just before Rooks Road where it turns northward and reconnects with Route 9 at the Clifton town line.
— The 5A2E3K route would extend I-395 by approximately one mile along the southern side of U.S. Route 1A in Holden before turning northward, crossing Route 1A and basically running along the Holden-Brewer lines on the Holden side before turning east and basically running parallel with Route 9 until just before Rooks Road where it turns northward again to circle around Eddington and reconnect with Route 9 at the Clifton town line.
— The 3A-3EIK-1 route would extend I-395 at its current Wilson Street junction and almost immediately turn east and would roughly run parallel with Route 1A for two miles before turning northeast and winding through mostly unpopulated areas before connecting to Route 9 at the Clifton town line.