The main proponent of a toll highway that would stretch across Maine from Calais to the Quebec border says construction could start as early as 2015.
On Friday, Peter Vigue said the proposed highway — which has been discussed for more than five years — is moving closer to fruition.
Last week, Vigue spoke in favor of the project at a public hearing, held before the state legislature’s transportation committee.
That committee, comprised of state representatives and senators, is now deciding whether to proceed with a $300,000 feasibility study.
The study, which would be undertaken by Maine’s transportation department, would evaluate the case for pushing forward with the highway.
Ted Talbot, a spokesman with the Maine Department of Transportation, says no decision has been made on the feasibility study.
“It has not yet been made official,” he said.
But Vigue, the president and CEO of Cianbro, a construction company based in Pittsfield, says he believes the feasibility study will soon be approved.
According to Vigue, a positive review from the study’s authors would help set the project in motion.
“Once we get a green light, we can move ahead with the design and getting all of our permits, which we believe is going to take about two years,” said Vigue. “Then we can start working.”
Potentially, crews could begin “breaking ground” as early as 2015, he said.
If approved and completed, the highway would run east-west across Maine. It would begin at Calais, which sits across from St. Stephen on the New Brunswick border. From there it would run to the Maine-Quebec border. The highway would end at Coburn Gore, Maine.
Vigue says the benefits of the project are clear: The highway would better connect Maine and the Maritime provinces to markets in Quebec, Ontario and the central U.S.
“It’s very important that the state of Maine work in a collaborative manner with our Canadian neighbors,” he said. “We have the same economic challenges and issues to deal with.”
The proposed highway would be created mainly by upgrading existing, privately owned roads, most of which are now used by the forestry industry.
The project, previously pegged at well over $1 billion, would be funded exclusively with private cash, Vigue said. The highway’s operators would charge a toll for its use, but unlike many other highways, there would be no weight restrictions for heavy trucks.
Jean-Marc Picard welcomes any news concerning the planned highway.
The executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association says the proposed route would significantly cut down on the trucking distance between the Maritimes, Montreal and Toronto.
Currently, Maritime truckers haul their loads around the top of Maine, along the Trans-Canada highway.
“It’s obviously going to save on fuel and wear and tear,” Picard said.
“If the fee is reasonable … it could very well be a positive.”
Vigue has been pushing for the highway for years, but he put the plan in neutral in 2008 after the economy slipped and private sector investment dried up.
He now says “multiple conversations” are under way with interested investors.
“We’re driving this because we think it’s long over due.”