BREWER, Maine — City officials were surprised to learn that the Maine Department of Transportation’s work plan for the next three years includes $7.25 million to start construction of the controversial Interstate 395/Route 9 connector.
“No, they certainly have not informed this office, and I would assume that this is where they would begin,” Brewer City Manager Steve Bost said Tuesday afternoon.
The transportation department’s $2.3 billion work plan for 2017-19 released earlier this month “describes all of the projects and activities planned by the department” for those calendar years, according to the document.
It states that the $7.25 million heading to the Brewer-Holden-Eddington area in 2017 is for highway roadway construction “beginning 0.25 of a mile west of Interstate 395 with Route 1A, roughly paralleling the Brewer-Holden town line, extending 6.0 miles to Route 9 west of Chemo Pond Road (in the vicinity of Lois Lane).”
That amount, however, does not approach the $61 million total cost the Department of Transportation previously has estimated for the connector project, which has been in the planning stages since 2000. Efforts to clarify Tuesday exactly how much of the project would be completed in this phase were unsuccessful.
The I-395/Route 9 connector is an approved limited access two-lane road from Brewer to Eddington designed to ease heavy truck traffic and improve safety on nearby routes 46 and 1A, while also creating a more direct link from the Canadian Maritimes to the U.S. highway system.
Area residents and community leaders have expressed concerns about the project over the years. Larry and Mary Adams, who live about 100 feet from the project’s line near its crossing with Eastern Avenue in Brewer, have made fighting the project their life’s work.
Larry Adams said state money was set aside “for a connector that many do not want or see the need for.”
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 Department of Transportation concept plans.
“I was not aware of [the work plan], but I’m not surprised,” Bost said Tuesday. “I am surprised by the date. We had anticipated this to be pushed out. That is new information.”
Surprise announcements by the MDOT concerning the connector are nothing new, Bost said. The department’s decision on its preferred route — one that had been eliminated years before — stunned town officials and residents of the three communities when they learned about it in late December 2011. The MDOT quickly issued an apology for not informing the communities earlier.
Members of the Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System’s policy committee said they felt forced last year to endorse a new three-year plan that included the connector, or lose all the region’s funding. That approval set aside $250,000 to start work on the design and right of ways.
Larry Adams said he also was upset that the state removed its old planning website, which had years of data posted on it, to make way for a new site that only includes a July 20, 2016, presentation, a map of the state’s preferred route and the Federal Highway Administration’s Record of Decision.
Rhobe Moulton, Maine Department of Transportation senior project manager, said Tuesday that she was unaware the old connector website had been taken down, but added she assumes it’s because the planning stage is over.
The Federal Highway Administration approved the Department of Transportation’s planned route in June, and since then, Maine transportation employees have been out surveying the area to finish the design and right-of-way process, she said.
“We’re getting more survey [information],” Moulton said. “We’re augmenting what we already had.”
Moulton said once the new survey information is collected, the department plans to have another public hearing. At that point, community leaders, including the Brewer city manager, will be informed, she said.
“There is nothing to inform him of,” Moulton said, referring to Bost. “As soon as we have something, we will let them know.”