April 06, 2020

Area officials back east-west highway

BANGOR — When the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee convenes at 9 a.m. today at the Capitol in Augusta, representatives of groups that have signed on as part of the engine for an east-west highway will be there.

Ready to speak their piece on a $25 million bond to get the road rolling will be officials from Bangor, Brewer and other communities as well as from the Eastern Maine Development Corp., the Action Committee of 50, the Maine Partnership, the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce and Regional Transportation Advisory Committee No. 3.

How are they getting to Augusta? Taking Interstate 95, most likely — the quickest route to telling the committee that the state needs and deserves an east-west road that knits the state together the same way I-95 has done as a north-south axis for decades.

Tentative plans for the highway, which could cost $1 billion, call for the road to begin near Calais on Maine’s eastern border and run to Bangor, where it would pick up I-95 to Newport. The highway would pass through Newport to Skowhegan, where it would split into two paths, one through Bethel to northern New Hampshire, the other north to Coburn Gore and the U.S. border with Quebec.

Several of the representatives planning to attend today’s hearing gathered Tuesday at City Hall for a press conference to remind the public of the hearing.

Bangor Mayor Timothy Woodcock repeated the mantra of the highway hopefuls: “Development follows infrastructure,” a theorem he said was proved by I-95, as both population and business growth are aligned along that highway.

A map of Maine and eastern Canada brings it all into focus, Woodcock said. The state is on a direct path between Quebec and the Maritimes, yet the major road is the Trans-Canada Highway, which loops up and over Maine.

“We do not have a friendly road system for our surrounding neighbors,” he said. The east-west highway would “make us the gateway to Montreal, to Quebec,” and make Maine the center of things.

“We are part of the global economy,” Woodcock emphasized. “With the passage of the North American Free Trade Act, our opportunities have never been greater.”

Both Bangor and Brewer have endorsed the highway and put up money toward research and advocacy efforts, a show of support that bill sponsor Rep. Jane Saxl said recently was very encouraging.

It’s time to pursue opportunities and not let a declining economy “just happen to us,” Brewer Deputy Mayor Donna Thornton said at the press conference. The highway would benefit not only the state and the area, she said, but “our children,” giving them better opportunities for jobs, education and the quality of life so important to Mainers.

Northern and eastern Maine need improvements in communications, information systems and transportation, said Norman Ledwin, chief executive officer of Eastern Maine Healthcare and representative of the Maine Partnership.

If built, he said, the highway surely would enhance not only road transportation, but rail, air and shipping. Statistics that show slow population growth in Maine and a decline in Lewiston and Bangor are borne out, he said, by the declining birthrate in Bangor.

“The state needs to do this together,” Ledwin said, pointing out that the highway also would benefit Portland. That city, he suggested, could be a better port for Quebec to use in the winter than New York.

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