Canada’s Maritime provinces, with help from their federal government, continue to move forward with a plan to integrate transportation links to give the region a clout it would not have otherwise. Maine transportation officials would do well to partner with these efforts, which are taking shape as the Atlantic Gateway and Trade Corridor Strategy.
The plan, which can be read at atlanticgateway.gc.ca, is heavy on the conceptual but nonetheless persuasive in its argument that when planning, marketing and acting as a corridor rather than stops along a line, the region can become more economically vibrant.
Several years ago, Maine and the Bangor region were active in a concept plan known as Atlantica. It was a branding effort aimed at showing the shipping world the best way to get products to the large and lucrative markets in the American Midwest was through the corridor that extends from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Buffalo, N.Y. Instead of seeing Maine as the end of the road of most U.S. transportation corridors, the state is a midway point on what could be a very busy transportation line.
The Atlantic Gateway concept makes the case for the corridor’s potential: “With natural, deep-water ports and North America’s closest access point to Europe and emerging markets via the Suez Canal, the Atlantic Gateway and Trade Corridor will help Canada capture a larger share of growing trade.”
Naysayers argue that under this east-west corridor scenario, Maine ends up being merely a pass-through for trucks and rail traffic, though its three ports, Eastport, Searsport and Portland, could see more business. Proponents of Maine getting in on this concept counter that being on the road to somewhere is better than being at the end of a dead-end road. Economic activity would follow shipping. Handling, assembling and even manufacturing businesses would eventually spring up along a busy corridor.
A designated truck route for east-west traffic, supported by upgraded pavement, drainage and shoulders, would be a good first step for Maine’s Department of Transportation. New roads are unlikely, given fiscal realities, and probably not a wise use of resources.
Investment in the state’s three ports should be made within the context of the Atlantica or Atlantic Gateway concept. And most importantly, ports in Halifax and Saint John, New
Brunswick, should not necessarily be seen as competitors of Maine ports. Each port might even specialize in handling specific cargoes.
Air and rail links are more difficult to customize to fit a network concept. But they can be enhanced and key terminals can be emphasized for the role they might play in an Atlantica or Gateway Atlantic concept.
Canada is proceeding with its plan, with or without cooperation from northeastern U.S. states. But if there is an opportunity for Maine to be part of a greater transportation system, it ought to explore it.