Burnham eyes I-95 exitJunction first pitched in 1960s gets mixed reception
Burnham — Burnham officials are hoping to reopen a case for the town's own Interstate 95 exit. Voters at the annual town meeting March 18 gave them a green light to look into it.
Today the town lies next to an uninterrupted 12-mile stretch of I-95 between Clinton and Pittsfield. An exit was planned for Johnson Flat Road in the 1960s but was abandoned, according to town officials, because Burnham, or a few influential residents, didn't want it.
"What I'm thinking right now is, it was just a handful of people who decided not to follow through on it or even bother with it," said former road commissioner Roger Huff, who recalled his father being one of the ones who didn't think the town needed an exit.
"I remember them talking about it at the store," he said. "They thought if they put an exit there it would bring a whole lot of traffic through the town. I don't think they were thinking too far in the future."
Waldo County is the only county in the state with no connection to I-95. A Burnham exit would only nominally change that. Socially and economically, the town is allied with its western and northern neighbors. Residents read the Waterville Morning Sentinel, send their children to school in Pittsfield and typically cross the border into Kennebec and Somerset counties for services.
The town dangles off the northwest edge of Waldo County and is bounded to the east by Unity Pond, which blocks direct routes to the coast. The interstate loosely follows the perimeter of Waldo County, putting many of Burnham's neighbors as close to current exits as they would be to a new one.
The same is true to the west of the interstate in Canaan. Clinton and Pittsfield, the towns with the largest areas abutting that stretch of I-95, both have exits within their town lines — an economic development study done by the town of Pittsfield last year beamed about the town's strategic proximity to I-95 but made no mention of seeking another exit.
The exit would give a relatively straight shot to Troy, but Burnham probably stands to gain the most. Residents mentioned Pride Sports, a large golf tee manufacturer in town, which lies less than two miles from the proposed junction, and seven or eight miles from those in Clinton and Pittsfield.
Selectman George Robison noted that interstate junctions usually attract clusters of commerce and visitors.
"If people know they can get on and off the interstate fast, it's got potential," he said.
Others cautioned that the junction would bring more traffic. Resident Kyle King said roads in Pittsfield are noticeably worse than those in Burnham because of truck traffic, which he connected with the interstate access there. Sherri Thornton, a resident of Johnson Flat Road, called an on or off ramp from I-95 is "the last thing I want."
Charles Runnels, a former law enforcement officer, said the 12-mile stretch makes it hard for police to respond to emergencies. Bill Russell, who brought the lost exit to the attention of town officials after hearing about it from a former legislator, said the same rationale led to the construction of a new ramp in Waterville.
"They're using the excuse, like this gentleman, when they got their permit, they needed to get off the highway and get people down to the hospital in Augusta quickly if the interstate was blocked up," he said. "That's the reason why all this has come about."
Voters authorized selectmen to "pursue and research the process" of establishing an I-95 ramp.
In town elections, voters returned two former officials into their old seats. George Robison edged Roger Chadwick, 103-96. Brent Chase got 37 votes.
Selectmen's pay came under some scrutiny as Chadwick called out Robison for missing meetings during his past tenure. Selectmen said switching to pay per-meeting, versus a fixed stipend, should be taken up at another town meeting.
Charles King defeated Roger Huff for the road commissioner post, 128-110.
Residents also debated at length whether to give money to Pittsfield Youth Center. Some wanted to support options for youth activities, particularly with the rise of electronic entertainment and the loss of a playground with the sale of the old elementary school. The center did not request money and ultimately voters did not offer any.