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Committee Endorses Repeal of Study Funds for Maine East-West Highway
05/08/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

The proposed east-west highway across Maine now looks like it will be entirely privately funded. This follows a vote by the Legislature's Transportation Committee to repeal a $300,000 feasibility study on the controversial 220-mile corridor that would link the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec via a highway across Maine. Tom Porter has more.

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Transportation Committee Chair Ed Mazurek, a Democratic state senator from Rockland, sponsored the proposal. "We feel that the east-west highway really is a private issue," he says.

The project is the brainchild of private construction giant Cianbro, which sees value in transporting shipping containers from the coast directly to the Midwest via Quebec. The $2 billion project has attracted considerable opposition from people concerned about the effect it would have on the environment.

Last year, the Legislature directed the state to carry out a feasibility study. But Mazurek's bill does away with the requirement. He says if the east-west highway is ever going to be built, it is some years away.

"I don't see it around the corner," he says. "I think right now, with all the environmental issues that we have going, all the conservation methods to put a concrete ribbon across the state of Maine, I don't know who would support that," he says.

"This is a very, very significant process - it isn't something that's done in a short period of time," says Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue. Vigue says the project will go on, but agrees it'll take a long time.

One of the reasons for this, he says, is that the company has made a pledge not to impact any conservation areas, and not to take any land by eminent domain.

As for the prospect of not getting any state funding for the feasibility study, Vigue says he's fine with that. "That was something that the state had initiated to fund in support of the highway," he says. "It certainly is something that is not necessary."

The feasibility study was due to be carried out by the Maine Department of Transportation. The Department's legislative liason, Nina Fisher, welcomed the committee's vote, saying the study would not have been a good use of public money.

"The Legislature required us to conduct the study a year ago, and we determined through the process that we didn't have enough information to actually conduct the study," Fisher says.

She says the Department needed more information on the proposed route of the highway - particularly how it would connect to the Canadian road system.

"We like to do good work, and by being essentially in violation of a law that was passed the previous year, we really need to amend that to make sure that we were in compliance with the legislative directive," Fisher says.

Cianbro boss Peter Vigue, meanwhile, says the feasibility study will now be carried out by an independent third party, and he estimates it will be 2023 before the highway is complete.


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