The momentum for the proposed east-west highway diminished a bit recently with the news that at least one former advocate is backing away from his support and that Gov. Paul LePage will now slow down the state-funded $300,000 financial feasibility study for the project. That’s a good idea, because, so far, proponents of the privately funded highway that would connect New Brunswick and Quebec have been less than
forthcoming about their plans.
There’s a long list of questions that need answering, not the least of which is why there’s a need for so much secrecy regarding the actual route of the highway. We believe that if public money is being spent for a financial feasibility study, then the exact route of the road needs to be made public.
Here are some others questions we’d like answered:
• Why are the private-highway proponents discounting upgrading and enhancing Maine’s existing east-west rail corridor? Studies clearly document that moving goods by rail is more cost-efficient, safer and cleaner than by truck. Rail transport is particularly good for moving fuel containers, which is a primary goal identified by highway proponents. And upgrading the east-west rail corridor would be a quarter of the cost the proposed $2 billion highway.
• How can it be that eminent domain will not be used along the corridor, as highway promoters maintain, when the majority of the land along an east-west route is privately owned?
• How will a 220-mile, four-lane, high-speed highway that bisects pristine areas of the Maine North Woods affect nature-based tourism, recreational activities and other economic activities that depend on Maine’s “wilderness” brand? Does it pose potential threats to snowmobile-trail infrastructure, wilderness camps and the Appalachian Trail?
• What will the “byway impact” be on local communities if new fuel stops and convenience stores draw traffic away from downtowns?
• How would the new highway affect towns such as Newport and Skowhegan that currently draw business from the traditional east-west traffic using Routes 2 and 9?
• Will the proposed “Canadian connector” threaten Maine’s lumber industry by providing faster, less-costly transport of Canadian wood products to Boston? (The proposed highway would connect directly to Interstate 95.)
These questions don’t even begin to address the environmental and quality-of-life impacts of the proposed highway. How would the road — possibly wider than the Maine Turnpike — affect wildlife migration, rivers and streams, and air quality? What would this major highway look like, and what kind of visual and noise pollution would it bring to inhabitants along the route?
Sierra Club Maine is committed to finding out the answers to these and many other questions in the coming months. We are dedicating significant resources to independent assessments of the proposed highway on Maine’s environment, people and economy.
But our efforts are seriously inhibited by all the secrecy surrounding the project. Without detailed information on the route location, interchange locations and environmental mitigation plans, there is no possibility of a thorough, credible and factual analysis of the real effects of the project.
We urge advocates of the east-west highway to let the people of Maine know what is being planned. Equipped with the facts, we can all decide whether this project is worth the cost or we should pursue less expensive, more environmentally friendly alternatives to boost the Maine economy.
Ken Cline of Bar Harbor, Jim Frick of Orono, Deb Loftus of Bar Harbor and Jayne Lello of Sebec are woods committee members of Sierra Club Maine.