January 16, 2018
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What Maine transportation project would spur the most growth? Group says I-395/Route 9 link

By Matt Wickenheiser, BDN Staff

A new highway linking I-395 and Route 9 in Greater Bangor tops a national nonprofit group’s list of 50 transportation projects most needed to spur economic growth in Maine.

Other projects that made the TRIP group’s top 10 list include standards on the transportation community’s wish list, such as an east-west highway bisecting the state from Calais to Coburn Gore and a new cargo port at Sears Island.

“These are the projects we feel in Maine are really the most critical as the state moves forward,” said Frank Moretti, TRIP’s director of policy and research. “By identifying these projects, helping the public understand the connection between investment in infrastructure and economic development, we would hope this would help build public support.”

TRIP is a transportation research nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. It’s sponsored by construction businesses, insurance companies, equipment makers, labor unions and other transportation-related organizations. Moretti said the group typically has done reports pointing out problems in infrastructure at the state level, from congested areas to routes with high fatalities. In the last few years, TRIP has started to do reports more focused on solutions; it released a half dozen so far and is in the process of another half dozen.

The report was being released Thursday in Portland, with a morning press conference planned at AAA Northern New England.

Moretti said TRIP talked with state transportation officials about the projects they felt are most critical. The group than ranked each transportation project based on a rating system that considered short-term economic benefits, including job creation; the level of improvement in the condition of the transportation facility, including safety improvements; the degree of improvement in access and mobility; and the long-term improvement provided in regional or state economic performance and competitiveness.

“Highways, rail, ports and public transit are vitally important to fostering economic development in Maine. As the economy expands, creating more jobs and increasing consumer confidence, the demand for consumer and business products grows. In turn, manufacturers ship greater quantities of goods to market to meet this demand, a process that adds to truck traffic on the state’s highways and major arterial roads,” the report authors wrote.

According to the report, $30.9 billion in goods are shipped from Maine each year and another $41.4 billion in goods are shipped to Maine, mostly by trucks.

“Because it impacts the time it takes to transport people and goods, as well as the cost of travel, the level of mobility provided by a transportation system and its physical condition play a significant role in determining a region’s economic effectiveness,” the authors wrote. “Maine’s businesses are dependent on an efficient, safe and modern transportation system. Today’s business culture demands that an area have a well-maintained and efficient system of roads, highways, bridges and public transportation if it is to be economically competitive.”

The list of 50 projects includes 35 projects to build, expand or modernize highways or bridges, five projects to improve rail or public transportation, five maritime or port projects, three multimodal projects, one aviation project and one project to improve the state’s trail system, focusing on the Eastern and Mountain Division trails.

The top 10 projects as ranked and their estimated costs were:

1. New controlled access highway between I-395 and Route 9, $70 million to $100 million.

2. Rehabilitation of the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge in York County, $105 million to $115 million.

3. Construction of new east-west route, cost of the study is $300,000 and construction likely would top $1 billion.

4. Reconstruction and rehabilitation of Route 3 from near Sand Point Road to Route 233, $5 million to $10 million.

5. Development of a cargo port at Sears Island, $225 million to $250 million.

6. Replacement of the Martins Point Bridge in Portland, $30 million to $35 million.

7. Rehabilitation of the West Approach Bridge in Bath, $15 million.

8. East-west access road in Gorham connecting to the Maine Turnpike, $75 million to $100 million.

9. Replacement of the Kennebec River bridge between Richmond and Dresden, $20 million to $30 million. (It was announced earlier this week that the replacement was moving forward thanks to a $10 million federal grant.)

10. Intermodal facility and Acadia National Park welcome center in Trenton, $12 million.

The list of 50 spans the state, advocating for bridge work in Kittery and replacement of the Route 1 bridge in Fort Kent. It includes continuing the connector project in Presque Isle and highway reconstruction on Route 201 in Somerset County.

“Some of those projects have been on the radar of the department, or certainly different regions of the state, for quite some time,” said Maria Fuentes, executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association. “I think it’s great that the I-395 connector is on there. We’ve heard for months now about the needs down in York County between Kittery and Portsmouth. And an east-west route is one folks have been talking about for 40 years.”

Different people could come up with different lists, Fuentes noted, but this list is broad, encompasses the state and is looking out into the future.

“If we did these projects, it could be transformative for the economy in Maine,” she said.

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