May 7, 2013

Panel OKs 2 bills backed by east-west highway foes, kills several aimed at stalling plan

Morning Sentinel Staff

AUGUSTA (AP) -- A legislative committee voted Tuesday to kill several bills aimed at stalling or blocking the proposed east-west highway but recommended passage of two that also were put forward by foes of the private toll road.

Tuesday's action by the Transportation Committee in a series of unanimous votes virtually assures the bills' final fate in the House and Senate.

The committee voted in favor of a bill calling for more transparency in public-private transportation projects and recommended passage of a bill to repeal the requirement for a feasibility study on the proposed $2 billion project. The proposal calls for a 220-mile, privately run toll road connecting New Brunswick and Quebec via Maine.

But several other bills, which also were the subject of a public hearing a week earlier, were killed.

The panel voted against bills to bar the use of public money for a private entity's highway plan and bills requiring an independent analysis of the impact of an east-west highway and of options to the project.

Opponents of the highway say it would siphon business from existing roads and impact the rural area's environment, while supporters say it would open Maine businesses to new markets and stimulate commerce in a poor region of the state.

State transportation officials last week spoke in support of the bill to repeal the requirement that it conduct a feasibility study of the east-west highway. The department said it was not in non-compliance with a law calling for a study because it has suspended it due to insufficient information.

But the department, acknowledging the strong opinions of the opposing sides, warned against passing legislation that hampers future studies.

"We do not yet know if an east-west corridor makes sense," the department said in its testimony. "That is what studies are for."

 

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