BREWER, Maine — It will be months before public comments about the proposed Interstate 395-Route 9 connector are summarized and addressed, but it’s already clear that some residents have strong opinions about what should happen, one federal official said.
“It was a pretty telling information,” Jay Clement, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit project manager, said last week about the public comments received. “A lot of folks would sooner rather have nothing than what is on the table, or would rather have the east-west highway run its course before any decisions are made.”
Peter Vigue, chairman and CEO of Cianbro Corp., has spent the last couple years speaking all around the state and Canada about a privately funded east-west highway, which gained state funding for a $300,000 feasibility study in April.
The concept proposed by Vigue calls for a 220-mile toll highway that starts in Calais, follows the Stud Mill Road to Costigan, crosses the Penobscot River, and meanders over to The Forks before connecting to Route 27 and the Canadian border.
“That route is not etched in stone,” Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Maine DOT, has said.
The Maine Department of Transportation and the Army Corps held a public hearing about the I-395-Route 9 connector — designed to ease traffic between the Canadian Maritimes and the federal highway system — in Eddington on May 16. Both agencies concluded their open public comment periods at the end of May.
Maine DOT has published the hearing transcript from the mid-May meeting, and those comments will be summarized with others received by mail and email and addressed before being presented to the Federal Highway Administration later this year, Talbot said. The FHA would pay for the road construction project, if approved.
“There is a 6- to 8-month gap here before the final EIS” or environmental impact statement, is published, Talbot said.
The DOT selected 2B-2 as its preferred route in October, abandoning a route selected in 2003 — and supported by both Brewer and Eddington — because of protected waterways identified, the project’s website states. 2B-2 would extend I-395 at its Wilson Street junction and would roughly follow the Holden-Brewer line until entering Eddington and connecting with Route 9.
The state’s former preferred route, which basically cut through the center of Holden, would cause a significant environmental impact to around 90 protected vernal pools, at least 28 considered significant vernal pools, and 2B-2 would affect around 11 vernal pools with only two listed as significant, a map on the project’s website states.
2B-2 “best satisfies the study purpose and need, has the fewest adverse impacts on environmental resources, and has the lowest cost estimate of the alternatives,” the website states.
The two other alternatives — 5A2B-2 and 5B2B-2 — both are similar to 2B-2 but start or end at different locations, and a “no build” alternative also is under consideration.
Maine DOT has requested a planning application permit from the Army Corps to fill in wetlands affected by construction of the two-lane, limited-access highway to ease traffic in the Eddington-Holden-Brewer area, Clement said. The Army Corps will soon determine the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative, or LEDPA, from the four alternatives.
“Midsummer is when we would target our decision on our LEDPA,” Clement said.
“It is anticipated that … alternative 2B-2 will be the LEDPA,” the project website states.
The debate over the connector route has been going on since 2000. When I-395 was extended to Brewer and the Veterans Memorial Bridge was constructed, much of the truck traffic that had used Route 9 in Eddington to connect from Canada to Brewer started using Route 46 as a connector, which prompted residents to request that an alternative route be built.
Even though the project has been in the works for years, “there is still a great deal of work involved in design, funding, mitigation” to be done, Clement said. “Right now, the project is not funded.”