The lengthy shelf life of Maine’s east-west highway

By Kent Ward,
Posted April 06, 2012, at 3:51 p.m.

One doesn’t have to poke around in the archives of a newspaper for long before being reminded of the truth of the biblical observation that there is not a whole lot new under the sun.

A case in point is the current discussion concerning a proposed privately funded east-west toll highway that would cut across Maine’s midsection, linking the Maritime Provinces with Quebec Province and the American Midwest.

Recently, as the Legislature was working on a bill that would authorize a $300,000 feasibility study of the proposed highway — a bill signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday — a Bangor Daily News editor researching the newspaper’s files spotted a front-page story from the distant past that brought to mind the old philosopher’s observation that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The story in the April 5, 1968, edition of the paper — 44 years ago to the very day, as I write — was headlined “Corridor road proponents change thinking on highway’s location” and was packaged with a map sketched by the paper’s editorial cartoonist, Vic Runtz. Because the piece carried my byline, it was forwarded to me.

It reported that backers of the International Atlantic Corridor Road project who envisioned a highway across Maine’s midsection from the New Brunswick border to the Quebec border had changed their thinking as to where the highway should exit western Maine.

Where once the highway was proposed to run from Vanceboro to Lincoln, Dover-Foxcroft, Greenville and into Quebec Province via Jackman, the new thinking was that it should run from Vanceboro through Lincoln, Milo, Dover-Foxcroft, Abbot and on to Coburn Gore, exiting there. Canadians would upgrade highways involved in New Brunswick and Quebec provinces.

The newly favored route was similar to an alternate that had been recommended by a corridor highway study committee named by the 102nd Legislature. It had been discussed at a high-level meeting in Fredericton, New Brunswick, that involved Maine Gov. Kenneth M. Curtis, the premiers of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and members of the cross-border highway committee.

Quebec proponents of the highway in the Sherbrooke area had given the project the cold shoulder when they learned of plans for the road to enter Quebec in the Jackman area rather than at Coburn Gore.

“They threw up their hands and said they wouldn’t have anything to do with it,” said Rep. Percy Porter, R-Lincoln, a corridor road committee member.

The idea of an east-west highway bisecting Maine has been floated for decades, as any Mainer with a half-decent memory knows, but never has advanced beyond the talking stage, mainly because of the cost of such a huge undertaking.

A paragraph from the 1968 story quotes highway proponents as acknowledging that “the largest stumbling block to the project is, quite simply, a lack of funds.” A year earlier, voters had rejected a $3 million bond issue that would have been used to upgrade hazardous portions of Route 6 from Vanceboro to Jackman.

Fast-forward to the latest version of the proposed cross-state highway, the precise route of which presumably would be determined by the study. At a public hearing last month, Peter Vigue, chairman of Cianbro Corp. and an outspoken advocate of the highway, said he has been actively recruiting investors who would privately fund the highway. Tolls paid by motorists would pay for maintenance of the road.

Money for an “investor-grade” study to be conducted by an independent agency will come from the Maine Department of Transportation’s highway fund. Should final authorization be given to build the highway, investors would reimburse the Department of Transportation for the study’s cost.

Highway proponents acknowledge that the corridor highway proposition has been well studied over the years, but they say they believe the pending study will conclusively settle the matter.

Maybe it will. But given the nature of such things, it’s not hard to imagine that 44 years from now — as the Legislature approves yet another study of the east-west highway concept in the year 2056 — some news reporter trolling the cyberspace archives will discover Friday’s news story about the governor signing into law the bill authorizing the project’s study that was to end all studies way back in 2012.

At that point, the reporter likely will have gained a new appreciation for what that eminent New York Yankee philosopher Yogi Berra was talking about when he spoke of having experienced deja vu all over again.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His email address is maineolddawg@gmail.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/04/06/opinion/the-lengthy-shelf-life-of-maines-east-west-highway/ printed on October 31, 2014