Selectmen press senator for east-west highway development

By Tanya Mitchell | Jan 07, 2012
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell Selectmen Joe Perry (left) and Dick Desmarais discuss whether the town should ask Sen. Susan Collins to put her efforts into establishing an east-west highway during the regular board meeting Jan. 3.

Searsport — During a discussion about the passage of a bill that will allow trucks weighing more than 100,000 pounds to use Maine interstate highways, selectmen opted to send U.S. Sen. Susan Collins a letter of thanks, and a request.

During the Searsport board of selectmen meeting Jan. 3, Selectman Dick Desmarais spoke to an item on the agenda aimed at sending a letter of appreciation to Collins for her work toward making that change.

Desmarais said he attended a meeting on the topic earlier that same day that included industry leaders and members of the community at the University of Maine at Orono, where Collins discussed Congress' recent passage of the bill and the years-long effort that led up to clearing Maine's secondary roads of heavy truck traffic.

In the draft letter of thanks to Collins, selectmen spoke to the importance of Route 1 in a town with an economy that leans heavily on tourism dollars, and thanked the senator for her efforts.

Selectman Joe Perry suggested that in addition to expressing appreciation for Collins' work on the truck traffic issue, the town should ask Collins to press forward with another initiative that he said has also been discussed for many years but has yet to come to fruition.

"We should ask [Collins] to put forth some effort on an east-west highway," he said.

While Selectman Doug Norman said he would agree to add in the request because "we are advocating for something we need" he said he was wary of "politicians in an election year."

Creation of an east-west highway system has been on the minds of lawmakers for decades, but Maine's elected officials have long lamented that funding for the project has been a barrier.  In a 2004 guest column authored by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, Snowe stated that the New England region is "tremendously disadvantaged in competing economically" due to its lack of highway that offers a straight-shot to portions of new Hampshire, Vermont and New York.

Opponents of the project, including Maine Earth First!, have expressed doubt that establishing such a highway in Maine will help the state economy. In a posting on the Maine Earth First! website regarding LR 2358, An Act To Provide Funding to the Department of Transportation for a Feasibility Study for an East-West Highway, the organization expresses concern that the highway would make Maine a throughway for Canadian businesses to move goods cheaply.

The posting also stated the highway would "make it economical for giant corporations to profit from cutting down Maine's forests to supply wood chips to Europe as green energy," and from "exporting Maine's water in bulk and in bottles to global markets."

After some additional discussion on the topic Tuesday night, the board agreed to send Collins the letter of appreciation, including the amendment pressing for more effort on developing an east-west highway.

Perry said he would be glad to see some movement on the long-standing issue.

"I've been hearing about this since I moved here in 1974," he said.

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