Let’s drive forward on east-west highway

By Doug Thomas, Special to the BDN
Posted June 27, 2012, at 5:23 p.m.

The east-west highway proposal has generated a lot of responses on the BDN letters page. Unfortunately much the information that has been provided is simply not true. The road may or may not ever be built, but that decision should be based on facts and not scare tactics by those who oppose any kind of economic development for our area.

For instance:

• Eminent domain cannot, and will not, be used to buy land for this road. If owners don’t want to sell, they don’t have to. If the land can’t be purchased from owners willing to sell, the road won’t be built.

• The right of way is not going to be 2,000 feet wide. The Stud Mill Road easement is 2,000 feet, but the Cianbro plan is to use only 500 feet of that.

• Overpasses and underpasses will be built at every road crossing just like every other interstate highway in Maine.

• There are no plans to use the right of way for any other purpose than a toll highway. If another use was proposed in the future, it would need to be approved by the government agency in charge of that use. Permits have to be granted before anything can be built.

• Because there is no eminent domain, the route cannot be determined until the land is under contract. The route will become part of the public record as soon as possible.

We have a north-south highway in Maine: Interstate 95. Should we turn it back into fields and forests? Of course not, as most of the things we need come to us over the interstate and turnpike. We get those things cheaper and fresher because of a good road.

Many of the jobs we have wouldn’t exist if not for our north-south highway connecting us to Canada in the north and the rest of New England in the south. We are affected in a positive way every day by a good north-south transportation system. We don’t even think about it.

People argue that we should have better rail service to avoid building this road. Both state and federal governments have poured tens of millions of dollars into privately owned Maine railroads the last few years, much of it on east-west tracks. There’s not much more we can do.

The trouble is most transportation customers don’t want a whole railcar load of any product. Would you want to invest in a railcar load of lobster? A stronger economy and more freight to move will do more for our rail system than all the subsidizes we can ever provide.

Still others think we should use the money to improve the roads we have before we build anything new. It makes sense until you realize this is going to be a private toll road that doesn’t draw from the limited funds available to fix our current roads. That money can’t be used to repair existing roads. Our roads do need attention, but Maine is about taxed out. A stronger economy is the only real solution for more money to fix roads.

We have 8,829 miles of state highways in Maine, plus thousands of miles of local roads and thousands more miles of private roads. Is an addition 220 miles of private road going to be as negative as we’re being lead to believe? If we have gotten to the point where we can’t build any more roads in Maine, what does that say about our ability to build any of the things we need to make our lives better?

There are economic benefits from this road, but it won’t cure every ill our economy is suffering by itself. We need fewer taxes on job creators, lower electric rates and a permitting process that keeps us safe but doesn’t stop development. They are all pieces of a much larger picture that will begin to undo the decline we’ve seen this last generation.

We have been talking about an east-west highway for decades. It has always been seen before as a positive step for our economy that we’d like to take but couldn’t afford. We may be able to get it done this time. Let’s take a good look before we make our decision and base that decision on facts, not rumors and misinformation. We may never get another chance.

Sen. Doug Thomas represents Maine Senate District 27 and serves on the Transportation committee.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/06/27/opinion/lets-drive-forward-on-east-west-highway/ printed on October 2, 2014