BREWER, Maine — After 16 years of planning, the proposed and controversial Interstate 395/Route 9 connector has gained its first federal approval, project manager Nathan Howard of the Maine Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Planning said Friday in an email.
The Federal Highway Administration issued a Record of Decision on the I-395/Route 9 Transportation Study on Thursday that selects the state’s preferred route as the one that will be built, Howard said.
“The [Record of Decision] identified Alternative 2B-2 as the environmentally preferred alternative and selected the proposed route as the build alternative,” he said of the estimated $61 million project. “This decision clears the way for MaineDOT to begin the Design and Right-of-Way process for the proposed I-395/Route 9 connector.”
Residents and community leaders in Brewer, Eddington and Holden have expressed concerns about the project that they say is being forced down their throats. An estimated eight homes will be “displaced” and another 54 other properties in Brewer, Eddington and Holden will be affected in one way or another, according to the Maine Department of Transportation concept plans.
“Firstly, I am not surprised,” Eddington Planning Board member Gretchen Heldmann said in a Friday email about the federal decision. “The MDOT continues to steamroll ahead with insufficient data to justify the selection of this alternative, while simultaneously misleading the public and wasting taxpayer dollars.”
Brewer City Manager Steve Bost described the connector as “a project in search of a mission, funded by money better spent on other infrastructure priorities, strongly opposed by the affected municipalities and homeowners, and based upon data that is no longer relevant. … It would be funny if it was fiction, but unfortunately it is not.”
Opponents have held forums in an attempt to stop the project. The Brewer City Council voted unanimously in opposition to the roadway. The Holden Town Council also voted against it. Eddington Selectmen voted last year to take no action on any resolve about the project, even though town officials sued the Maine Department of Transportation in 2013 for connector documents.
The planned route extends I-395 where it ends at Wilson Street in Brewer and roughly follows the Holden-Brewer line until entering Eddington and connecting with Route 9.
The two-lane road is designed to ease heavy truck traffic and improve safety on nearby routes 46 and 1A, while also creating a more direct link from Canada to the U.S. highway system.
The Record of Decision is the final step in the Environmental Impact Statement process. It identifies the preferred route, the basis for the decision, the alternatives considered, the “environmentally preferable alternative,” and provides information to avoid, minimize and compensate for environmental impacts, the Department of Transportation’s I-395-Route 9 connector website states.
A copy of the federal decision will soon will be posted to the project website, Howard said.
It is the sixth of seven steps needed to complete the project, which has a tentative 2025 completion date.
Now that the Record of Decision has been issued, “MaineDOT will be hosting a Public Informational Meeting within the next month to discuss the I-395/Route 9 Transportation Study and [Federal Highway Administration’s] recent decision and to describe the process moving forward as the study now transitions into a project,” Howard said.
The date and time for the meeting have not been set, he said.
The connector has been in planning stages since 2000, and members of a local regional transportation board said they felt forced to endorse the road project in March when state officials told them they would lose $57 million in regional road project funding.
The Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System’s policy committee endorsement was also approved by Federal Highway Administration officials on April 8 and allocates $250,000 to prepare preliminary engineering and right-of-way documents for the connector, Howard said.
“This will go down in history as a waste of time and money,” Heldmann said.