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Highway to Nowhere

by Steve Cartwright, published March 7, 2012 in the New Maine Times http://www.newmainetimes.org/articles/2012/03/07/cartwrites-highway-nowhere/

Some bad ideas get buried, only to rear their ugly heads again, and a billion-dollar East-West Highway in Maine is one of them.

This shopworn proposal has been around for years and every so often some misguided legislator sees it as salvation for northern or Down East Maine.

While Canadian truckers like the idea of a shortcut through the Maine woods, it is a highway to nowhere for us. Unless it’s a scheme for trucking gas from a gigantic propane tank planned for Searsport to Canada. Propane could be used for fracking, an environmentally wasteful process that big oil uses to support our addiction to fossil fuels.

Those who want to build a new highway in Maine, like those who want to install a 15-story gas tank in Searsport, are all about making money in the short term. They want us to ignore the environmental impact or any other roadblock that would compromise potential profit. Maine’s natural environment is one of its greatest long-term assets: economically, aesthetically and for our physical and spiritual health.

If there’s one thing Maine should preserve at all costs it’s the mostly unspoiled natural environment that is our legacy to our children, and our best hope for future prosperity. It supports agriculture, fishing, forestry and tourism, from backwoods camping to sailing along the coast.

Remember, it was Rumford native Ed Muskie, the former governor and U.S. senator, who successfully fought for the clean air and water acts. We now have a governor, Paul LePage, anxious to undo environmental protection, and some legislators ready to aid in that destruction.

The so-called East-West Highway could certainly benefit the Cianbro construction firm, but that is no reason to fund the study, and there seems little justification for a highway that would desecrate a wild and beautiful portion of our state.

Who needs this road? A new highway won’t change Maine’s overall economy any more than a gambling palace. There is no panacea, no magic formula for bettering our economic prospects. Beware of claims that sound too good to be true.

Cianbro, one of Maine’s most politically powerful corporations, is now courting the Legislature. Our elected representatives are being asked to authorize $300,000 to “study”  the proposed private toll road. I don’t want my tax dollars going for such a study, do you? Even if this road made sense, there is no good reason why public money should pay for a private study, biased or not.

Construction projects in Maine seem to get a life of their own, juggernauts that gather momentum from those who profit from them, becoming unstoppable.

Case in point: The huge Kennebec River bridge between Bath and Woolwich, built beside what was a perfectly serviceable bridge that must remain in place because it carries the railroad. So now we’re stuck with maintaining two bridges. Not brilliant, but bridge builders made a killing, you can be sure.

Speaking of rail, Maine already has an East-West Highway made of steel. Why don’t we invest in that? Rail is safe, secure and efficient, and way better for our natural environment than trucks careening down a highway. Maine could revive a rail system that is still in place, if our political leaders had the vision and commitment to do so.

There are many worthwhile projects and programs in our state that desperately need funding. An East-West Highway is not one of them. This proposal has no merit for Maine. It makes no sense. It is time, once again, to bury this boondoggle.

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