Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Maine East-West Highway Idea Revived as Potential Impetus for Economic Development

Sources:
Bangor Daily News: East-west highway critics mislead, bully, Cianbro chief Peter Vigue says
Down East Magazine: The East-West Highway: Gateway to opportunity or toll on the environment?
Kennebec Journal: Vigue turns ambition to an East-West Highway
Maine Dept. of Transportation: 1999 East-West Highway Study
The Philippines Dept. of Foreign Affairs: The Philippines Eyes Economic Collaboration in the Canadian Maritimes
The Portland Press Herald: East-West Highway: Savior or Albatross?
Seacoast Online News: A Maine east-west highway is an intriguing proposal

As Maine looks for opportunities for economic growth, a prominent construction company owner has revived the idea for an East-West Highway through the middle of Maine. In 1999, the state government seriously considered the idea, which has been around for at least 30 years, but rejected it because of a lack of public funds. Now, construction company owner Peter Vigue proposes a private East-West highway with tolls to help recover the cost of construction and maintenance. Vigue’s proposal is being met with concerns from environmental groups and some members of the general public, yet it may have potential for increased economic development for Maine.
          
The proposed East-West Highway crosscuts the middle of Maine, removing the need for automobile transportation in Canada to edge around Maine’s northern border. Maine is surrounded on three sides by Canada, and current automobile transportation from Canada’s eastern Maritime Provinces to Montreal and Toronto must go around the north of Maine. The proposed East-West Highway would have the potential to reduce such travel by more than an hour (from about eleven hours to under ten). In addition, the proposed highway would make Eastport, Maine, one of the deepest ports in eastern United States, within a day’s travel of Montreal, Toronto, New York, Detroit, and even Chicago.

Concerns about the East-West Highway center on the environment and the potential failure to bring in financial benefits to Maine. Environmental concerns focus on the conservation of Maine’s extensive forests; because the highway would cut through portions of Maine’s forests, it risks disrupting natural migration patterns for animals that travel through the area. Economically, many citizens view the proposed highway as a gamble that may not pay off. The state government performed the last major studies on the economic feasibility of such a highway in 1999 which concluded that the benefits of the proposed highway were not sufficient to justify the costs of construction and maintenance.

Even with these concerns, however, the proposed highway has the potential to provide for greater economic development in a state that has had very little recent growth. By creating an easier connection between eastern and central Canada, Maine would be connecting with the current increased economic growth of the Canadian Maritime Provinces coming from recent oil and natural gas developments. In addition, the proposed highway would enable Maine’s seaports to increase their economic competitiveness by allowing Maine to attract more freight shipping. The highway would also increase access to tourism in central and coastal Maine.

With a new economic and feasibility study due in January 2013, the proponents of the proposed East-West Highway hope to demonstrate that the benefits to the economic growth for Maine outweigh the costs of associated with building the highway.

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