Group Criticizes Proposed East-West Highway in Maine

Fri January 11, 2013 - National Edition

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) A report by an environmental group that examines 50 of the country’s best and worst transportation projects calls the proposed east-west highway across Maine one of the worst.

The Sierra Club said that the privately run, four-lane toll highway cutting through the Maine woods would have negative impacts on air and water quality and critical wildlife habitat. It also said a freight rail line parallel to the proposed route could reduce vehicle miles traveled and redirect public investments toward passenger and commuter rail.

“If there is a need to move more goods across the state, it makes more sense to revitalize the existing freight rail line,” said Glen Brand, Sierra Club’s Maine Chapter director. The 220-mi. (354 km) highway would provide a direct highway route between Quebec and New Brunswick, Canada, via Maine.

The report noted that similar highway proposals have been studied and rejected numerous times in the past. A financial feasibility study by the Maine Transportation Department awaits proposals showing where the east-west highway’s connections to existing highways would be, putting the project in a holding pattern.

The Legislature earlier this year appropriated $300,000 for the feasibility study, but said the money must be paid back by the developer if the highway gets the go-ahead.

The report by the 1.4 million-member Sierra Club opposes highways and bridge projects in several other states, citing impacts such as pollution, sprawl, runoff and cost. However, it praised planned projects such as commuter rail, bus and streetcar expansions, and bikeways. It also praised a bridge project in Florida that will restore water flow to the Everglades.

The program manager of the project, Darryl Brown, said the Sierra Club’s report was not surprising.

“Sierra Club came right out of the gate opposing this project,” said Brown.

Brown took issue with the report, saying planners are trying to avoid having the highway go near populated areas and disrupting people’s lives. He said the strictest international environmental standards would be followed in construction. Brown also said that railroads cannot meet the needs of all businesses, and that railroads and the highway can work “hand in hand” in delivering goods across the state.

“There’s room for both,” he said.