March 29, 2020

Bangor expected to boost east-west highway plan

BANGOR — A proposal for an east-west highway crossing Maine should get a boost Monday evening when the City Council acts on a measure appropriating $10,000 for research and advocacy efforts on the plan’s behalf. The meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, pending power availability.

Half the funds would be available right away, and the rest held in reserve. The money would be taken from the budget of the community and economic development department.

The concrete support of an east-west highway comes at a good time, said Rep. Jane Saxl of Bangor, a vocal supporter and one of the sponsors of a $25 million bond that would fund preliminary work on the highway.

“The studies which are required are major national environmental studies,” Saxl commented Friday, adding that the bond would also fund some design work.

The bond will be discussed Thursday during a workshop of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee in Augusta.

Rep. Pamela Hatch of Skowhegan introduced “a concept piece of legislation” about the highway last year, and that passed, Saxl said. Reps. Joseph Driscoll, Vaughn Stedman, Richard Campbell and several others met during the session with other supporters and Maine Department of Transportation representatives to discuss the need for the highway.

An east-west highway for Maine — one of only three states without such a road — would run from Calais to Bangor, pick up I-95 to Newport and branch off again to Skowhegan, where it would split into two routes. One would head west to northern New Hampshire, the other up to Coburn Gore.

“We became convinced this was the time” to proceed with seeking support for the highway, Saxl said of the legislators and others who met last year.

The North American Free Trade Agreement encourages “open borders and free trade,” Saxl said, something an east-west highway could facilitate.

The $10,000 the council is considering may not sound like a lot, especially in terms of a project that could top $1 billion before it’s done, but City Manager Edward Barrett sees it as money that would be part of a greater effort.

The funds could be used for outreach to other areas of the state, he wrote in a memo to the council, and for further research by entities such as the University of Maine’s Canadian-American Center. Maine is situated between two Canadian provinces: New Brunswick and Quebec.

In addition, Barrett wrote, he hopes to see “educational efforts designed to seek support for the public and our legislators.”

The City Council endorsed the concept of an east-west highway last year, and some of the councilors became even more enthused about the idea after participating in a recent meeting of the Maine Partnership on the issue. The council discussed the highway during a council workshop on Dec. 22.

The city of Brewer also has gone on record supporting the highway, Saxl pointed out.

“I’m gratified by the support the east-west highway has generated,” she said.

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