East-west highway to civility. Please?

David Bessler of Atkinson (from left), Peter Eldredge of Guilford and Peter Brenc of Dover-Foxcroft protest the proposed east-west highway outside the Wells Conference Center on the University of Maine campus in Orono in April.
Gabor Degre | BDN
David Bessler of Atkinson (from left), Peter Eldredge of Guilford and Peter Brenc of Dover-Foxcroft protest the proposed east-west highway outside the Wells Conference Center on the University of Maine campus in Orono in April. Buy Photo
Posted May 31, 2012, at 3:36 p.m.

In all the shouting about a potential highway cutting east-west across Maine, residents are forgetting something: It’s not happening yet.

So people picketing and bullying highway promoter Peter Vigue, chairman and CEO of Cianbro Corp. — causing him to bring bodyguards when he travels sometimes — tend to lose credibility even if their point might be worth hearing.

The idea behind the 230-mile privately owned east-west highway — and let’s remember, it’s just that, an idea — is one worth considering. Objecting to it before a feasibility study contract has been awarded, let alone before the study has even begun, doesn’t help protesters make well-informed arguments.

A big question is whether it makes economic sense to build a highway potentially stretching from Calais to Coburn Gore. Would the traffic flow be great enough to offset construction and other costs? Who will pay the tolls needed to keep the highway maintained? Will the new route save freight companies enough travel time to make it worth their while?

An independent feasibility study — authorized by a bill signed by Gov. Paul LePage in April — will be essential in providing answers, and further studies are needed to determine environmental effect. Several studies have been completed in the past, but this potential project has a different route and would be bankrolled by private investors.

The highway could benefit the state by connecting it to larger commerce centers, such as the Great Lakes region or the European and Middle East trade markets, via the Eastport port. It could invite greater investment.

There undoubtedly would be environmental costs, however. The $2 billion highway would be the largest private development ever in Maine when considering its length, construction process and the extent of its permitting requirements. Wetlands are a serious potential concern, as are wildlife areas.

But the extent of the rewards and problems are not yet fully known. In fact, the exact route hasn’t even been specified — though Vigue has said it would likely follow the Stud Mill Road to Costigan, cross the Penobscot River and head to Milo, south of Dover-Foxcroft, Monson and The Forks before connecting to Route 27 and into Canada.

Why hasn’t he revealed the exact route publicly? Because some homeowners have been afraid of harassment and asked him not to discuss it, Vigue said. Plus, the road has not been designed.

“People have been intimidated. There are mailings and information out there that are totally inaccurate,” he said. “If the study indicates we shouldn’t move forward, so be it.”

Vigue said the road would not go through conservation areas, would not run through communities and would not divide the North Woods. (It would run between Dover-Foxcroft and Dexter). Because it’s a private project, developers would not have eminent domain rights.

People have valid concerns about the highway, such as whether it will be audible from their home or what it will do to potential deer-wintering areas or the habitats of rare species.

But stop the hostility. Have the conversation. At the very least, wait for all the information.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/05/31/opinion/editorials/east-west-highway-to-civility-please/ printed on July 24, 2014