September 13, 2007
The Maine Department of Transportation has a serious problem - too much road and not enough money, a shortfall officials estimate at $162 million a year. New construction has been postponed or canceled, and maintenance of existing roads and bridges has fallen farther behind. For instance, a truly abysmal stretch of Route 1 in Wiscasset is just now being resurfaced, after two years of broken pavement and potholes.
So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to hear Peter G. Vigue, chairman and CEO of mega-construction company Cianbro Corporation, of Pittsfield, suggest that the long-promised and never-delivered east-west highway between Calais and Coburn Gore be built privately and operated as a toll road. Speaking in Orono recently, Vigue noted that the state can no longer afford to acquire the right of way for the project, which two years ago had a total cost of $900 million. He says a New York bank has already approved the idea.
Whether such an idea makes sense in an era of rising energy prices and serious questions about global oil supplies should spark a lively debate. I notice that the October issue of Atlantic Monthly
has devoted two pages to an analysis of the Ghawar oilfield in Saudi Arabia, the largest field in the world in the country with the largest oil reserves in the world. The article concludes the field is likely past its peak production and declining. If true, the long-term implications are ominous.
The east-west highway is promoted as a way to ease the passage of more than 1,000 tractor-trailer trucks hauling cargo between Maritime Canada and Quebec every day. Ignored is the fact that we already have an existing and wildly underused east-west cargo corridor that can carry goods (and people) more cheaply and efficiently than trucks - the old Canadian Pacific Railroad line between Vanceboro and Jackman. Perhaps higher fuel prices will make rail transport popular again, but until then only Vigue's toll-road proposal is keeping the east-west highway on track.
Jeff Clark, senior editor and serious commuter