Maine Lawmakers Discuss Possible East-West Highway Once Again 

For almost 50 years, the Maine Legislature has talked about an east-west highway running through Maine. Tuesday that talk resumed, but with a little different twist.Unlike past proposals, Senator Doug Thomas said he doesn’t want a government funded highway with a price tag in the billions. He’s proposing a privately owned toll highway. The resolve Thomas introduced to lawmakers asks for $300,000 for a feasibility study. “So that there’s a study done to see if we can find investors to build a private road,” the Ripley Republican said Tuesday. “Because if we wait for the government to build this, it never gets done.”The highway would run around 230 miles and from Calais to Coburn Gore on the western tip of Maine, being built, for the most part, using existing logging roads.Those in favor of the plan include Cianbro President Pete Vigue, who explained what Maine businesses go through to ship products to eastern Canada and the central U.S. “They come down Interstate 95 into Massachusetts, and they go west to Albany, and across. Then all the way to Chicago and Detroit,” Vigue explained. He then told lawmakers that a new east-west highway could easily connect to an existing highway in Sherbrooke,Quebec, just 61 miles from the Maine border. Vigue says that would open up an easy pathway to the central U.S., cutting time and expense. “So it is about connectivity and those issues,” Vigue said, “and it’s also about future investments and how we can move companies here that will create jobs and employ the people of this state.”Not everybody is on board with the highway plan. About a dozen opponents gathered outside the state house to voice their displeasure. “We’re really concerned about, first of all, it opening up that area for more exploitation of raw materials, including bulk water, timber, and gravel primarily,” said Chris Buchanan, an organizer for Defending Water For Life in Maine. “For Mainers we would just be getting a huge road, pollution, infrastructure development through some land we believe should be for Maine people to live on.”Thomas vehemently disagrees, saying the highway could give areas that are struggling economically a much needed shot in the arm. “It’s such an opportunity for the state of Maine,” Thomas said, “and it’s such an opportunity to improve the economy. There should be at least 300 jobs to plow the road, to maintain it, collect the tolls.”The study could be done as soon as next January and lawmakers will be briefed on the findings. Then they can make the decision whether or not to move forward with the plan.