AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a bill that would commit public funds for a new feasibility study on an east-west highway.
The 18-14 Senate vote affirms last week’s vote in the House and sends the bill to Gov. Paul LePage’s desk for a signature or veto.
The bill commits an estimated $300,000 from the Maine Department of Transportation’s highway fund to commission an independent study.
The idea for an east-west highway was last studied more than a decade ago, but supporters say the time is right to revisit plans because there is renewed private-sector interest in building a new route.
An amendment was attached to the bill last week in the House stipulating that once final authorization is given to construct a highway, the developer would reimburse the Department of Transportation for the estimated $300,000 study.
In the past, some have suggested that an east-west highway be built with public dollars but the current sentiment is that it would be a private toll road. Many say that building the road would improve the transportation of goods and services and provide a shot in the arm for tourism as well.
“This allows the state to still spend the money because it’s vitally important that the state is behind the steering wheel on this project,” Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, said last week. “So, we get to keep control of the study now and if and when the project occurs, the developer pays the state back. That’s a good compromise.”
Some Democrats had said they were not opposed to the concept of a new study, but they didn’t want to commit public funds for what would be a privately financed project.