Lawmakers Consider Bills That Could Kill East-West Highway Project 

Small Maine businesses that are worried a proposed east-west highway would siphon away cross-state traffic are taking a stand in support of six bills aimed at slowing down or killing the project. The Transportation Committee on Tuesday took testimony on the bills, which include measures to repeal a law calling for a feasibility study on the highway and barring the use of public funds for private transportation study.Plans call for a 220-mile toll highway between Calais and Coburn Gore, which provide a direct route across the state for Maine and Canadian truckers. Before the hearing, a list of 125 businesses that oppose the highway out of concern it would take away business was presented to lawmakers. Among those who presented the list, Chuck Peabody, owner of Crab Apple Whitewater Rafting in the Forks. “The proposed route of this road, what we know about it could come directly over the top of the Kennebec gorge and destroy the small businesses. There’s like 10 rafting companies in that area as we know it,” Peabody said at a morning press conference denouncing the project. “This has no transparency. We don’t know where the road is going. I myself am worried about my property being taken by eminent domain.” Skowhegan Democrat Jeff McCabe also opposes the plan saying there’s just too many unanswered questions. “Will it fragment hunting locations, block ATV trails, block snowmobile access? Will it span the upper Kennebec changing the river experience forever?” McCabe asked during the press briefing.Project backers say the highway would bring economic benefits, including construction and maintenance jobs. If lawmakers kill the east-west highway project, Scott Lever of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, says it could kill more than just this project. “Our concern is that there would be a more far reaching impact on public and private projects down the road.”The committee will likely vote on the bills in the coming weeks.(The Associated Press Contributed To This Report)