New England East-West Highway

By Michael Dougherty

 

The east-west highway is a long-proposed, often debated corridor in northern New England (Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont), intended to link remote communities with markets in the Maritimes, Quebec and New York. The idea of a east-west highway has been bounced around communities in these areas for well over 50 years and opinions on it being a viable economic solution still greatly differ.

Originally the east-west highway was planned to be a project taken on by the government but last year a new proposal was revealed which would make it a privately financed toll road. This did nothing to alleviate the debate and only created more questions for the residents of the communities that this highway would effect.

On one side of the fence are people like Darryl Brown, the program manager for the east-west highway project for Cianbro, which is proposing the project. He believes the east-west highway will attract additional investment to Maine’s rural communities, reduce travel time, improve utility transmission and revitalize Maine’s ports. “It can make Maine the breadbasket of the Northeast,” he said earlier this year at meetings in both Eastport and Calais.

On the other side of the fence are many New England residents and environmental groups. These residents and community driven groups believe the potential benefit from an east-west highway are greatly outweighed by the, what they consider, obvious damage this highway will cause to the areas it passes through. 

The concerns of the local residents include, but are not limited to, the effect the highway will have on natural wildlife habitats, the potential damage to Maine’s air and water quality, the displacement of residents to make room for the highway and the loss of local business to large convenience stores and truck-stops along the new highway.

Maine residents tend to see this proposed highway as a way for a few to get rich while the small communities it touches pay the price. It has been argued over the years that an east-west highway would be of great benefit to the private investors collecting the tolls, big business and several large ports in Canada while doing very little to improve the Maine economy.

Several Maine political and environmental groups are staying neutral on the idea of an east-west highway, including the St. Croix Waterway. “After reviewing the information, the board of the Commission has decided to remain neutral on the highway and not issue a stance at this time,” Waterway Commission Executive Directory Abby Pond said on Monday.