East-west highway: ‘This is a project that is going to happen’
FARMINGTON - The program manager of an ambitious proposal to create a highway running east-west across northern Maine presented details about the plan this morning, at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce's Business Breakfast Series.
Darryl Brown, formerly of Main-Land Development Consultants of Livermore Falls and the state's Department of Environmental Protection commissioner, accepted a position at Cianbro late last year, as the program manager for the east-west highway. He discussed the proposal with members of the Chamber at the University of Maine at Farmington's North Dining Hall Tuesday morning.
He noted east-west highway proposals had existed since prior to World War II, but that the latest version incorporated a new route and new financing. The project would be funded through the private sector, Brown said.
"This is a project that is going to happen," he said.
The proposed highway would consist of a 500-foot-wide right-of-way, running 220 miles from Calais to Coburn Gore in northern Franklin County. It would aim to take advantage of anticipated growth in the container shipment system, with Brown citing a study that suggested the world's annual shipment of the 1,280-cubic-foot containers could jump from 85 million containers, as of 2008, to 243 million containers in 2024. Maine and the Canadian maritime states represented a natural link in that supply chain, Brown said, due to their deep water ports and relative proximity to manufacturing sectors in the American midwest.
"Maine is perfectly positioned to become a leader in global trade," Brown said.
While rail offered some opportunities for transport, Brown said, it could not provide the flexibility and ability to precisely time deliveries that trucking allowed.
The east-west highway would charge tolls to recoup the estimated $2.1 billion investment. Brown said that passenger cars would be charged a rate that would be similar to those charged on the Maine Turnpike, while commercial trucks would make up the bulk of the toll revenue. Cianbro and other planners are already in the process of lining up investors, Brown said.
The highway would utilize six to eight interchanges in the state. In Franklin County, Brown said, one interchange would likely be located near Coburn Gore. Another would be possible somewhere north of Flagstaff Lake. It is anticipated the route would incorporate Route 27, north of Eustis, after coming west out of The Forks.
The highway would be patrolled by the Maine State Police, Brown said, who would be contracted by the highway's owner to do so.
The proposal would also include a multi-use recreational trail that would travel alongside the highway, improving trail connectivity for snowmobilers, ATV riders and others, Brown said, by linking trail systems together.
The highway would avoid conservation and tribal lands, and Brown detailed the step-by-step process that planners were using to wind the highway around residences, mountains, wetlands and environmentally-sensitive areas such as deer yards. While acknowledging that the project would not be able to avoid every wetland area, Brown said that the process allowed the planners to develop the best possible route.
Brown said that developers had committed to being environmentally compliant with ISO 14001, generally regarded as a significant set of regulatory benchmarks. Wildlife crossings would be used to allow for migration of deer and other animals. Brown said that the specific location of the crossing point of the east-west highway and Appalachian Trail had not been chosen, although a couple of likely candidates had been developed.
Eminent domain would not be available, due to the project being privately developed, Brown said.
He did note the plan faced opposition and that planners were anticipating permitting and legal challenges. Brown said, in a perfect world, the project would begin the three-year local and state permitting processes by the end of 2013. Construction was anticipated to take another three years. Realistically, given all possible challenges, Brown said, the project could take 9 to 10 years to complete.