A new law will allow motorized recreational vehicle trails along certain rights of way of controlled-access highways.

LD 1567, written by Presque Isle Democratic Rep. Robert Saucier, authorizes the Maine Department of Transportation to permit all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile trails adjacent to controlled-access highways, like the planned Presque Isle bypass.

Saucier said he sponsored the measure, which took effect March 29, because a snowmobile trail in Presque Isle was going to be partially disconnected when a local Route 1 bypass is built this spring. The Maine Department of Transportation planned to include a multi-use trail paralleling the bypass but then learned that state law bars motorized recreation vehicles from operating on controlled-access highways and prevents adding trails in their right of way, according to Saucier.

LD 1567 allows trails to be permitted by the DOT within the controlled-access highways’ right of way and allows snowmobile and ATV riders to cross the controlled-access highways at designated locations.

“Snowmobiling is an important and significant industry in our area, and ensuring the trail remains intact is critical because it is such a huge economic driver,” Saucier said. “This law will help to ensure it can continue unhindered.”

There was no opposition to the measure during a public hearing on the bill on Feb. 9, and representatives of the DOT, ATV Maine and the Maine Snowmobile Association testified in favor.

Richard Howlett Jr., president of the Star City ATV Club, said the Presque Isle bypass would intersect the ATV and snowmobile trail many times in just a few miles.

“This trail is very important to the recreation community in central Aroostook county,” he testified. “This is the main trail running north and south, which is used by thousands of ATVers and snowsledders every year. Breaking up this major trail system would be a major blow to the economy in the central Aroostook area.”

Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association testified that the economic value of snowmobiling in the state is estimated to be in excess of $300 million.

Instrumental to the success of snowmobiling in Maine, he said, are the thousands of volunteers who maintain the trails, generous landowners who allow the use of their land and the continuity of the trails themselves. “Maine is known throughout the Northeast for the opportunities that are afforded to riders who can literally ride from one end of the state to the other on an interconnected trail system,” he continued.

The bill would “ensure the safety of all involved and at the same time preserve the important continuity of the state’s trail system,” he told lawmakers during the public hearing.

Under the measure, MDOT would permit the trails, and the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry would construct them with revenue from the Snowmobile Trail Fund and ATV Recreational Management Fund.

Because it was submitted after deadline, the bill was approved as an “emergency measure” and passed with the required two-thirds support in the House and Senate.

It became law March 29 without the signature of Gov. Paul LePage.