DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Opponents of the proposed east-west highway stretching across Maine continued to speak out at a Tuesday morning meeting of the Piscataquis County commissioners.
More than a dozen members of the Friends of Piscataquis Valley voiced opposition or provided alternatives to the four-lane, 220-mile highway from Coburn Gore to Calais proposed by Cianbro President and CEO Peter Vigue. The meeting came on the heels of an appearance by Vigue at Foxcroft Academy to promote the highway that saw fierce opposition.
Charles Fitzgerald of Atkinson said the railroad system, which already runs east to west across Maine, could be used instead of a highway.
“[Vigue said trains] can’t run fast enough,” said Fitzgerald. “From Montreal or Saint John to Searsport can be reached within a 24-hour period. How much freight is so time-sensitive, especially freight going overseas, that one day isn’t fast enough?”
Fitzgerald also cited a study that said extending the rail to reach Eastport, which Vigue said could be used a deep-water port, would cost about $48 million.
“It would only cost between 2 to 3 percent of the total cost of the projected cost of the $2 billion of the highway project,” said Fitzgerald.
Vigue has said he has lined up private businesses to fund the cost of the highway.
Gene Ripley of Dover-Foxcroft questioned Vigue’s assertion that jobs would come to the region because of the highway.
Ripley read from a 1999 State Planning Office study for the Maine Department of Transportation during the meeting. The economic impact analysis for an east-west highway compared case studies from Vermont and New Hampshire looking at the impact of Interstate 91 on those states.
“What they found was a very, very modest increase in jobs that were localized primarily to pre-existing population centers and to where the north-south and east-west highway crossed,” said Ripley. “And most of those jobs are in the service sector of fast food restaurants and gas stations located near those exits. They also noted that those jobs, in their words, didn’t necessarily represent any real economic benefit, because they came directly at the expense of rural communities, or rural downtowns and of the small towns all along those corridor routes that were bypassed by the new interstates.”
Bryant Brown of Monson agreed that a highway wouldn’t bring much of an economic benefit to the region.
“Any road from point A to point B, in itself, will not create jobs in the middle,” said Brown. “A four-lane road might produce around 100 road maintenance and toll jobs, but there will be no further land transactions. There will be no public access.”
Currently, six exits are planned for the highway with the possibility of two more in Washington County. One of the exits is planned to hook up with Route 15, which connects Dover-Foxcroft to Bangor.
“Where will the exit be for Route 15 in Dover?” Brian Turner of Monson asked. “Several miles out of town toward Bangor? Won’t that create more heavy truck traffic on Route 15, which we can’t keep up with the road maintenance on that road right now?”
Ripley also pointed to the quality of life as a reason why people live in Piscataquis County.
People moving to the area “come here for a reason. A recent report by the Brookings Institution singled out quality of life and the quality of place that we have here in Maine,” said Ripley.
Will Vandermast, who moved to Dover-Foxcroft with his wife and son three years ago, agreed.
“We moved here to raise our family,” he said. “My point here is that if this actually comes through, we’re leaving town. We moved here to be away from the highway. We moved here to be away from pollution and noise and all the other dangers that come with it. What they won’t be including in this economic feasibility study is the exodus of people out of the area and the money we take with us.”
Tom Lizotte, chairman of the commissioners, said the panel has no jurisdiction over the highway. He also said he would wait until the feasibility study is completed before he would make any recommendations.
“We’re keeping an open mind,” said Lizotte.