PITTSFIELD, Maine — Plans for a proposed east-west highway continue to move forward despite a flurry of towns adopting measures to keep it away from their land, according to a leading proponent of the project.
Darryl Brown, the Cianbro Corp. project manager for the east-west highway, said there is still no mapped route to divulge, as he is still working with landowners and dealing with environmental issues.
“As we continue to deal with the landowner[s] and environmental issues, and the complexity of both of those, we need to keep the route very, very fluid at this point,” Brown said Wednesday.
The proposed transportation, utility and communications corridor includes a 220-mile toll highway connecting Calais to Coburn Gore, creating an east-west route from New Brunswick to Quebec.There will be interchanges in the vicinity of Calais, Interstate 95, Route 15, Route 23, Route 201, and Route 16/27. The privately owned highway, with an estimated price tag of $2.1 billion, would be open to public use.
Cianbro Corp. President and CEO Peter Vigue, who has been a leading voice in favor of the route, previously said the highway would avoid town centers and pass between Dover-Foxcroft and Dexter. He also has said that eminent domain will not be used in acquiring land for the project.
Although the corridor will likely take several years to become reality, it has been a hot issue in the mid-Maine region. Penobscot County towns Dexter, Charleston and Garland have passed 180-day moratoriums against privately-owned corridors, as have Piscataquis County towns of Sangerville, Monson and Parkman.
“We obviously have to pay attention to that,” said Brown. “We have to consider every time a community passes a moratorium and see how it affects the planning process and how it impacts the route.”
Brown said he has not asked landowners to sign options for Cianbro to buy their land, at least not yet.
“We’re not at the point to ask specifically for those commitments, but we anticipate it will come along in the next steps,” he said.
Along with landowner issues, environmental issues are also a major obstacle.
“It’s not as simple as when the interstate and turnpikes were built. Many of the environmental standards in place now, were not then,” said Brown. “It takes a lot more time for preliminary planning. It’s a better process, at the end of the day. We’ll have treated the environment better and deal with land owner issues in a more compassionate manner.”
No public meetings hosted by east-west highway proponents are planned for the near future, said Brown. The company will also not interfere with towns considering moratoriums.
“We consider those to be local meetings where local folks need to come and offer opinions and make decisions without our influence,” he said.
Despite obstacles, Brown said Cianbro is committed to seeing the project through to the end.
“ We feel this is a project that needs to happen,” he said. “We’re committed as a company to advocate for this project. We see this as a game changer for Maine’s very fragile economy.”