Residents unhappy with I-395-Route 9 connector route, lack of communication from officials

Posted April 04, 2012, at 9:41 p.m.
Last modified April 05, 2012, at 5:53 a.m.

BREWER, Maine — An open house Wednesday regarding the proposed Interstate 395-Route 9 project drew more than 50 residents of Brewer, Holden and Eddington to the Brewer Auditorium.

State and federal officials are inviting written comments from the public on a draft environmental impact statement for the connector — designed to ease heavy truck traffic between the Canadian Maritimes and the federal highway system.

Wednesday’s open house was intended to provide an opportunity to learn more about the project from representatives of the Maine Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Many of those who attended, however, expressed dissatisfaction with transportation officials’ latest preferred route — an alternative known as 2B-2 — and their failure to keep town leaders and residents of Brewer and Eddington informed of recent developments.

Brewer resident Larry Adams lives in a residential subdivision off Eastern Avenue near the 2B-2 route. During the open house, he said the preferred alternative doesn’t even meet the state’s own criteria.

“If this did what it is supposed to do, I’d just say it was my bad luck” to have a home close to the route, he said, later adding, “To me, it’s a shortcut to Walmart for Eddington.”

A potential real solution, he said, is the proposed east-west highway project, a private road he noted would be paid for by those who actually use it.

“I see this as a project for Canadian truckers,” said Albert Gibson, a Brewer resident who serves on the city’s planning board and a homeowner who could be affected by the project.

Tom Smiley, who also lives off Eastern Avenue, was not happy to see a slightly changed 2B back.

“One of the things we’re upset about is that 10 years ago they took this off the table. Now it’s back. It’s not fair to the citizens of Maine to flip-flop back and forth.”

State and federal transportation officials have been studying a Brewer-Holden-Eddington connector since before 2000 and late last year chose 2B-2 as their preferred route.

It would extend I-395 at its Wilson Street junction and roughly would follow the Holden-Brewer line, mostly on the Brewer side, and then enter Eddington, where it would connect to 4.5 miles of rebuilt Route 9. It also is virtually the same as the 2B route MDOT eliminated from its list of 70-plus alternatives in late 2002.

The decision stunned town officials and residents of the three communities when they learned about it in late December. The MDOT quickly issued an apology.

Transportation officials’ failure to involve Brewer in the decision-making process that led to the selection of 2B-2 prompted city councilors to unanimously withdraw their support for the connector.

Russell Charette, the Maine Department of Transportation’s project manager for the connector project, said that while he understands affected residents’ frustrations, as MDOT sees it, 2B-2 would have the least impact on homes and the environment.

He further said that the state is working to improve the flow of communications with affected communities.

“One of my charges is to make sure that we communicate appropriately and effectively moving forward,” Charette said, citing Wednesday’s open house as one example of that effort. He also said he built an email list to keep key players, including town officials, up to speed on the project.

The DOT and the Federal Highway Administration also are officially considering two other alternatives — 5A2B-2 and 5B2B-2 — which are similar to 2B-2, and a “no build” option.

The Brewer session is the first of two planned in connection with the connector. The second open house is scheduled for 1-4:30 p.m. May 2 at the Eddington town office. It will be followed by a formal public hearing set for 6-8 p.m. the same day at Eddington Elementary School.

BDN writer Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report

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