PORTLAND, Maine — A new report by the environmental advocacy organization Sierra Club calls the proposed east-west highway that would run through Maine one of the worst transportation projects in the United States.
The report, “Smart Choices, Less Traffic: 50 Best and Worst Transportation Projects,” cited negative effects on Maine’s air and water quality and wildlife habitat as reasons to oppose the proposed $2 billion, 220-mile, four-lane project.
“We are firmly opposed to the construction of a new east-west highway because we have existing infrastructure such as the current east-west highway [U.S. Route 2] which needs [improvement],” said Karen Woodsum, campaign director for Sierra Club of Maine.
The 220-mile highway would connect the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec from the border at Calais west to Coburn Gore. The privately funded highway would traverse Maine’s forested regions and provide truckers a faster route to rural areas where their goods need to be transported.
Peter Vigue, CEO of Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield and the leader of the highway project, was unavailable to comment on the report. A spokesman for Cianbro said the report was based on incomplete information because the project is still in the planning stage.
“As we define the route of the highway, we are making a conscious effort to avoid all existing conservation areas, protected areas and tribal lands,” Darryl N. Brown, program manager for the highway project, wrote in an email to the BDN. “We are avoiding communities along the route as well as areas of housing congestion.”
According to the report, similar highway proposals have been studied and rejected in the past.
However, such a project would come at the expense of small Maine communities and natural habitats, according to the report, and Woodsum believes a different mode of transportation is necessary to transport goods.
“There’s a better alternative,” said Woodsum, referring to a freight rail line that parallels the proposed route. “It is much more efficient and cheaper to transport those types of freight by train, and it’s less damaging to the environment.”
The project could also affect small-town businesses that are located on Maine’s state routes in towns the highway is projected to pass through, according to the report.
“Even though highways may look like a great way to help the trucking industry and some of the corporations that would like to move goods, the impacts are just inescapable,” said Woodsum. “It diverts everything away from traveling through those downtowns and you see all those businesses die.”
In 2011, the state allocated $300,000 of taxpayer money toward a study of the project despite widespread opposition.