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New bills to preserve State control over transportation development, and eminent domain

Op-Ed by Chris Buchanan | March 25, 2015

The proposed East-West Transportation, Communications, and Utilities Corridor has raised important public policy questions regarding the state’s transportation policy. Two bills have been introduced by our Maine legislators to ensure the proper role for the state in transportation planning, maintenance, and development, without increasing regulations or stymying infrastructure that is desired by local people. The bills would create an equal playing field for all significant transportation proposals that may utilize the Public-Private-Partnership law.

LD506, An Act to Improve Public-Private Transportation Partnerships, introduced by Rep. Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville) and cosponsored by Senator Paul Davis (R-Piscataquis), will be heard by the Transportation Committee on Thursday, March 26. The bill’s summary states:“This bill changes the law governing public-private partnerships to develop transportation facilities by removing the Department of Transportation’s authority to receive unsolicited proposals and to limit those proposals solicited by the department to those in accordance with the Sensible Transportation Policy Act.”

LR 373, An Act to Prohibit the Delegation of Eminent Domain Power to Private Entities sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis prevents eminent domain from being used by a private entity for transportation projects, or in certain Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) on behalf of a private entity.

The need for state legislation has been clearly demonstrated by the actions taken by local communities to enact local laws designed to protect their community from the proposed East-West Corridor when adequate state policy has been lacking. Eight communities have passed a local ordinance, be it a moratorium, referendum, local-self governance, or land use ordinance. These communities so far include: Abbot, Charleston, Dexter, Dover-Foxcroft, Garland, Monson, Parkman, and Sangerville.

In addition, local people of all political persuasions have formed groups in opposition to the proposed Corridor. One such group started by Grandmothers from Charleston, “Grandmothers against the East-West Corridor,” get together every fourth Friday to lead a silent vigil in front of Cianbro’s Pittsfield headquarters. All this is telling how many people feel threatened and left vulnerable by Maine’s existing state laws.

Over the past three years, Stop the East-West Corridor has focused on developing resources, advocating for transparency, and supporting decentralized local resistance to the proposed East-West Corridor. We are all Maine residents working together to help support people with a variety of concerns, who are still unable to find answers to their questions from private or public officials. We appreciate that our state legislators are sponsoring these bills in response.

It is time for the state to ensure that we don’t have any more unfounded proposals which waste taxpayers time, money, and resources the way the East-West Corridor is. The bills introduced by Senator Davis and Representative Chapman go a long way to address this problem and deserve the support of all the people of Maine.

Although Cianbro has been mostly quiet about its progress, Cianbro President and COO Andi Vigue voiced continued support and commitment to the Corridor in a WABI-TV 5 news broadcast on June 16, 2014, and Maine Magazine published a feature piece in the May 2014 issue with a photo of Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue in Wesley where the Corridor would “cross Route 9”. Like an inexplicable dark cloud on the horizon that never goes away, the Corridor proposal lingers.

The fact that the East-West Corridor is not in the public’s best interest was well documented by the state in its 1999 Feasibility Studies of an East-West Highway. These studies explored environmental impacts and socio economic impacts of a new-build public toll highway from Calais to Coburn Gore, along with several other options. In the end, the state concluded that the new build option would create the most environmental impact, would not significantly increase manufacturing, would not stop out-migration of population, and was likely to create a negative bypass effect on rural downtowns, especially in Washington County that is primarily served by East-West roads.

The pricetag for construction at that time was $1.2 billion, although the total costs, incorporating all these factors and not just money, were estimated at $439,239 in 2015 and $229,691 in 2030 per job created. Therefore, the state concluded that the costs outweighed the benefits. In other words, there was an overall negative economic impact of that new build public toll highway. Instead, the state decided to improve Routes 9 and 2, a plan that the MDOT is still pursuing.

Why then are we still having to mobilize against this ill-conceived proposal for the East-West Corridor? It is time for reasonable state laws that prioritize the public interest in planning state transportation infrastructure.

Chris Buchanan is the Statewide Coordinator of STEWC and Maine Coordinator of Defending Water for Life, and lives in Belgrade. More info at www.stopthecorridor.org

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