Communities stunned by state’s new choice for I-395-Route 9 connector route

Posted Jan. 05, 2012, at 8:17 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Maine transportation officials recently eliminated the proposed route they selected in 2003 to ease heavy traffic flow between Canadian Maritime Provinces and the federal highway system and now support the route preferred by Holden residents.

News of the state’s new preferred route — 2B2 — to connect Route 9 and Interstate 395 came as a surprise to municipal leaders in Brewer and Eddington, who said this week they knew nothing about the Maine Department of Transportation’s plans until late last week.

“I hadn’t heard anything,” Eddington Town Manager Russell Smith said Thursday. “A lot of people weren’t happy that they picked a route and nobody had any say about it.”

In addition to being surprised by MDOT’s choice, some residents also are angered by it, Smith said.

“I think it displaces a lot more homes and properties, so I don’t know how they came about [selecting] it,” he said. “I know there is a lot of people who aren’t happy.”

The 2B2 route would extend I-395 at its Wilson Street junction and would roughly follow the Holden-Brewer line, mostly on the Brewer side, until entering Eddington and connecting with 4.5 miles of rebuilt Route 9.

Brewer City Manager Steve Bost said Tuesday that a resident contacted city leaders last Thursday.

“He started emailing city councilors here in Brewer saying, ‘Are you aware that the I-395 Route 9 connector project had been reactivated?’” Bost said. “I did not know and neither did the City Council.”

Bost contacted Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, who he said also was in the dark about MDOT’s plans.

Holden Town Manager John Butts said Thursday that the town planner recently checked the project’s website and found the information, then gave town leaders an informal update.

The last official action taken by Brewer city leaders was in 2009, when the City Council endorsed the state’s former preferred route — 3EIK-2 — which has been eliminated.

“We assumed that until such time that there is a significant funding source identified to pay for construction, the project was on ice,” Bost said.

That could not be further from the truth, MDOT’s new project manager, Russell Charette, said Tuesday. He said 3EIK-2, which would have cut through the mostly unpopulated center of Holden and was designated as the MDOT’s preferred route in 2003, was eliminated because of concerns about a “substantial environmental impact.”

The project cannot go forward without a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, which requires that the least environmentally damaging option be used, Charette noted.

“We compare the various alternatives against one another,” Jay Clement, Army Corps permit project manager, said Thursday. “The 3EIK had very, very high environmental impacts and we had a tough time accepting that was going to be the least environmentally damaging option for the project.”

When Holden residents who live on Route 46, which is used by heavy trucks to connect from Route 9 to U.S. Route 1A, complained in 1996 about the doubling of traffic along their front yards, they asked that alternative routes be discussed.

A public advisory committee created in September 2000 reviewed more than 70 route choices to ease traffic in the Brewer-Eddington-Holden area and by 2008 had narrowed the list to two — 3EIK-2, the state’s former preferred choice, and 2B2, identified as Holden’s choice.

Raymond Faucher, a longtime MDOT project manager who is now retired, told Holden residents in 2005 that 3EIK-2 had the least amount of residential displacements compared with the other alternatives considered.

Brewer City Planner Linda Johns, who lives in Clifton and was the town’s representative on the public advisory committee, said this week that the countless hours local committee members spent working on the connector project over nearly 12 years have been ignored.

“I have been disappointed in the entire process of this project,” she said in a letter to Bost. “From the very beginning, the PAC members were asked to draw lines [potential routes] even before all the information was available, thus creating useless routes which were then slowly eliminated. From then on, I felt the PAC was only there to check a box on the checklist and that decisions were already made by DOT and other agencies.”

Johns continued: “It would be interesting to find out what happened over the past year and a half to make such a drastic change in preferred routes. If it was determined by state and federal agencies that undeveloped land and wildlife habitat needs to be preserved, then who is looking out for the people and their homes? I am all in favor of environmental concerns but there has to be a balance with people.”

Smith and Bost both said they strongly agree with Johns’ position. They said the fact that the state is not allowing public comments on its new preferred choice until the draft environmental impact statement is ready to be unveiled to the public sometime later this spring also troubles them.

“It is going to displace some and it’s going to take a lot of [other] people’s property,” Smith said. “That is why I am so surprised [by the state’s decision.] I didn’t know how they could do that on their own.”

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