The East-West Highway

By State Senator Bill Diamond

This week, what seems to be a perennial issue at the State House, came up again — the East-West Highway. This year the bill is LD 1671, “An Act To Provide Funding to the Department of Transportation for a Feasibility Study of an East-West Highway,” and it takes a very novel approach, using public funding to study the feasibility of a private road.

I’m really not sure how I feel about this, and I would really welcome your input.

While transportation routes running north and south are at least adequate, traveling across Maine has never been easy, especially the farther north in the state you go.  \The idea of a highway from New Brunswick to the New Hampshire border has long been seen as a key element of economic growth in northern Maine. The problem is, and always has been, that building such a road would be very expensive, and given our current finances, the odds of the state undertaking such a project are growing more remote all the time. It is just beyond our means for the foreseeable future.

Recognizing this, Senator Thomas, the sponsor of the bill, used the idea of having state dollars pay for a full-blown feasibility of the road, which would then be built with private funds, and ultimately paid for by tolls. The study, which would have a budget of $300,000, would look at optimal routes and would be, according to the bill’s sponsor, “an investor grade study.” The original bill called for the money to come from the general fund, but an amendment endorsed by a majority of the committee has the money coming from the Highway Fund instead.

I have several concerns about this measure, and had hoped that the Transportation Committee would allow for more time to settle some of these issues and get more answers, but the bill was rushed out of committee with a final vote only two days after the hearing. I voted against the bill in committee, but I still have hopes that we can revisit it later after I have had time to come to some conclusions.

First of all, I wanted more time to decide if it was really appropriate to use state dollars for a study of a project that would really be a business venture for private investors. This is new territory for Maine, and I wanted to get some feedback from my constituents on this. Once that decision is made, I have concerns with where the money comes from if we fund the study. While the Highway Fund may be a more appropriate place to take the money from than the General Fund, it still faces serious shortages, and is unable to keep all the roads we now have in good repair. I would need to know exactly where this money was coming from, and be convinced that it couldn’t be spent better on its original purpose. These are questions that can be answered with time, and I hope we don’t rush into this commitment.

An East-West Highway across Maine may be a great benefit if planned appropriately. I really would value your opinion on this, so please call my office or send me an e-mail at my website, www.mainesenate.org/diamond

Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the District 12 communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.

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