April 08, 2020

Changes halt MDOT route assessments

HOLDEN – After a decade of discussion and controversy over possible routes for a planned Interstate 395-Route 9 connector, new Federal Highway Administration rules are forcing Maine transportation officials to go back to the starting block for some items.

Maine Department of Transportation officials completed an environmental assessment of their preferred route – 3EIK-2 – last fall, only to be told by federal officials in October 2005 that a full environmental impact study was needed.

Residents were told the study would add a year to the process.

“It’s going to take us longer than that,” Raymond Faucher, Maine DOT program manager, said Monday. “The Federal Highway Administration went through a reauthorization of funding last year. That also initiated some changes in how we do these studies.

“Some of those rule changes didn’t get finalized until late spring, early summer,” he said later.

Other ongoing projects statewide also are making the Holden project a lower priority, Faucher said.

The federal transportation bill signed in 2005 adds new requirements for road construction projects, including better documentation and identification of environmental details, Faucher said.

The changes have slowed the project’s progress and that might mean some of the earlier work needs to be completed again.

“We just can’t take what has been done,” Faucher said. “We need to see if some of the items done are still appropriate.”

The discussion about connection routes was initiated in 1996 when a group of Holden residents on Route 46, concerned about the doubling of traffic, asked that alternatives be discussed.

A public advisory committee, created in September 2000, reviewed more than 70 alternative routes to ease traffic in the Brewer-Eddington-Holden area, and narrowed the list to two – 3EIK-2, and 2B2, named as Holden’s choice.

The 3EIK-2 route would extend I-395 by almost two miles along the southern side of U.S. Route 1A in Holden before turning northward, crossing Route 1A and winding through mostly unpopulated areas before connecting to Route 9 at the Clifton town line.

The 2B2 route would extend I-395 at its current Wilson Street junction and would roughly follow the Holden-Brewer lines until entering Eddington and connect with a rebuilt Route 9.

The work of the advisory committee is being used, Faucher stressed, even though “the new regulations are going to require us to do a whole new scoping meeting.”

In addition to 3EIK-2 and 2B2, a no-build option to reconstruct the current roadways, and three other routes are under review, Faucher said.

“Most are previously dismissed” routes from the advisory committee’s list, he said.

Faucher did not give specifics on the three newly identified alternative routes now under consideration, but said if they pass permitting hurdles, the options will be presented to residents to get feedback.

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