AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s transportation committee on Tuesday voted 8-1 against a bill seeking to prevent the state from pursuing the construction of a controversial road to connect Interstate 395 and Route 9.
Rep. Arthur “Archie” Verow, D-Brewer, was the lone vote in favor of the bill, which he proposed. The rest of the committee decided the bill “ought not to pass.” The bill will head to the full House for a vote.
The Maine Department of Transportation proposed the $61 million connector to reduce heavy truck traffic along Route 46. The project has been in discussion since 2000.
“This proposed connector could one day increase commerce in the surrounding communities and simply eliminating it from consideration permanently is shortsighted,” said Rep. Peter Lyford, R-Eddington, in a statement released after the vote.
In 2011, the MDOT backed one of several proposed routes, named 2B-2, which would extend I-395 at its Wilson Street junction and would roughly follow the Holden-Brewer line until entering Eddington and connecting with Route 9.
The proposal met resistance from officials and residents in Brewer and Eddington, including Verow, a former Brewer city councilor. He proposed the bill to remove route 2B-2 from consideration and force the state to reconsider other routes earlier this session.
More than 70 potential routes have been reviewed by state and federal entities during the past 15 years.
About $2.8 million has been spent to date on feasibility studies, mostly federal dollars, according to the Maine Department of Transportation. The department testified before lawmakers early this month, saying the state could be responsible for reimbursing the Federal Highway Administration for those federal funds had the favored route been pulled from consideration by the state.
The Army Corps of Engineers informed MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration that the Corps would consider a permit approval for option 2B-2 alone because that route had the “least dramatic” impact on the local ecology. So scrapping that route could effectively scrap the entire project, DOT argued.
Brewer officials were so upset that MDOT officials did not discuss the decision to change the state’s preferred route to 2B-2 from one that cut through the unoccupied center of Holden with them that city councilors unanimously withdrew their support for the connector in March 2012.
Verow said Tuesday afternoon that he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the committee vote, considering the testimony that the state might be forced to repay the cost of the studies if the project were scrapped.
“I felt that it would be worthwhile for the DOT to go back and look at some of those other routes that were explored,” Verow said.
In other business Tuesday, the transportation committee unanimously backed another one of Verow’s bills, which would name the Interstate 95 rest area in Hampden after Joshua L. Chamberlain, a civil war hero and former Maine governor.
What remains unclear is what title would be used in front of Chamberlain’s name — colonel, general, governor, or something else. Verow said those details should be worked out before the House considers the proposal.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.