AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s Transportation Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend repealing the requirement that the Maine Department of Transportation complete a feasibility study for a proposed private east-west highway from Calais to Coburn Gore.
With three pieces of legislation proposing essentially to kill the study, the committee agreed on LD 985, a bill sponsored by its Senate chairman, Sen. Edward Mazurek of Rockland.
Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, offered his motion in support of the bill “just to make this thing go away so we never have to hear ‘east-west feasibility study’ ever again.”
In March 2012, Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill authorizing MDOT to spend $300,000 for a study to determine the feasibility of building a $2.1 billion private east-west highway. At the behest of Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, an early legislative proponent of the project, LePage agreed in August 2012 to suspend that study.
During testimony at a public hearing in March, Bruce Van Note, deputy commissioner of the MDOT, told the committee that the department had not conducted the study. The department spent approximately $17,000 in staff time and for a consultant’s help in preparing requests for proposals, according to information provided to the committee Tuesday by the Office of Policy and Legal Analysis.
Cianbro Corp. CEO Peter Vigue, a leading proponent of the east-west highway, has argued that such a roadway would improve Maine’s overall economy, offering a particular boost for rural Maine communities devastated by the loss of traditional manufacturing and resource-based jobs. Details about the proposed route for the highway have yet to be announced. During a Penobscot County commissioners meeting last month, Vigue said Cianbro hopes to release a proposed route by the end of this year.
Environmental groups, small business owners and residents of communities that could be affected by the project have opposed the plan through a variety of measures in the Legislature.
The Transportation Committee dealt with six of those proposals during work sessions Tuesday. In addition to endorsing LD 985 and recommending the demise of two pieces of legislation that proposed similar outcomes, the committee unanimously recommended rejection of LD 362, which proposed banning the use of public funds for a private transportation study. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, introduced the “ought not to pass” motion after determining, with help from MDOT officials, that the bill could negatively affect projects other than the east-west highway.
The committee also voted unanimously against two bills that would create study groups to analyze and oversee further development of the east-west highway.
Rep. James Gillway, R-Searsport, said creating a study group or commission could give the false impression of support.
“In light of all the testimony against, doing things to further enable it just doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.