|Source: Bangor Daily News "Renewed interest in east-west highway reaches State House"|
I live in the hollow middle of Maine, according to the Cianbro Construction CEO who wants to construct a private 2000 foot wide “corridor” road through it. My family has lived in the hollow middle for generations, clinging to the shores of either the Kennebec or Carrabassett rivers, but I traveled all the way down to southern Maine to attend a discussion with transportation experts in Biddeford this week including consultants, engineers, plus my hollow middle former state senator Peter Mills, now head of the Maine Turnpike Authority.
I arrived late for what was billed as a centrist discussion of all matters pertaining to transportation in our state, but no one had yet talked about “the elephant in the room” as investigative journalism Lance Tapley of the Portland Phoenix termed it when he was finally able to raise the issue about an hour into a two hour meeting.
OneTable, free and open to the public, is put on by OneMaine, a group affiliated with Elliot Cutler, the man who brought us Governor LePage. Cutler swooped in out of nowhere with a resume full of Chinese venture capital and flooded the market, especially the internet, with advertising, claiming he was a centrist, and independent like Maine. As a result of splitting the liberal vote, our now infamous buffoon governor claimed victory with 39% of the votes. I did not spot Elliot Cutler in the crowd, along with not spotting David Bernhardt, Commissioner of Maine Department of Transportation, who was supposed to be on the panel but canceled.
Once the topic that most interested the audience was raised, precious little was said about it. Panelists feigned ignorance of the shocking fact that the plan for the E/W Corridor specified a 2000 foot right of way. (The current Maine Turnpike has 300 ft at its widest.) They expressed finding this “confusing.” Panelists also said it was too soon to talk about the project, even though $300,000 of taxpayer money was allocated to a feasibility study for what is intended as a private, limited access road connecting Canada to Canada across the – yup, hollow middle.
|Source: Kenny Cole, Maine Draw-A-Thon blog|
Dennis Damon, a retired legislator, said disingenuously that “the state” shouldn't build any new roads until it has a plan for maintaining what's already in place but crumbling. I think Damon was playing word games because the E/W, of course, would be a private road, not built by the state. He did give me the idea for a good resistance slogan though: NO NEW ROADS. So simple, even a first grader in the hollow middle wouldn't feel confused.
One panelist who wasn't afraid to support the E/W Corridor, Maria Fuentes, said the spinoff (whatever that is) of the highway would “connect Washington County to the rest of the world.” I guess the county hasn't even made it to hollow middle status; like so much of rural Maine, it is still nowhereville.
Ms. Fuentes seemed to be on a first name basis with Cianbro's CEO, and assured us that she has heard him say he doesn't want to build the road unless he can do it right. Also that the $300k seed money made all the sense in the world, because as long as the road gets approved, the investors will pay the state back.
Luckily there were some knowledgeable folks in the audience, in particular Chris Buchanan of Defending Water For Life, who helps ask the right questions of elected and un-elected officials involved in the “private-public partnership” pushing for the Corridor to be built. Video below of what she had to say about that prospect, plus plans to supposedly avoid conservation land (“just not possible”), and the feasibility of protecting wildlife by building bridges for them across the 2000 feet of hollowness.
Panelists (l to r): Moderator Sarah Skillin Woodard, One Maine; Peter Mills, Director of Maine State Turnpike Authority; Maria Fuentes, Maine Better Transportation Association; Dennis Damon, former Senate Chair of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation; Matt Jacobson, Oxford Networks; Steve Workman,Workman Consulting; and Kristina Egan, Transportation for Massachusetts.