DOVER-FOXCROFT — Scores of protesters, many carrying signs and wearing blaze-orange shirts and armbands, assembled here this afternoon to oppose plans to build an east-west highway across central Maine.

They lined the road across from Foxcroft Academy and gathered in a crowd across from the tennis courts, where several residents spoke against the $2 billion proposal.

“We don’t want our way of life stamped out by one big footprint,” said David Lee Finley, a retired Dover-Foxcroft native.

The event was organized by a newly formed coalition of residents and local groups in Piscataquis and Penobscot counties called Stop the East-West Corridor. Its stated goal is to increase collaboration between groups around the state that are coming out against the proposed highway.

The rally took place ahead of the first big public presentation for the proposed highway that would bisect central Maine and connect the Canadian Maritimes with Quebec and the Midwest.

At 6 p.m., the project’s leading supporters, Peter Vigue, Cianbro Corp.’s chairman and chief executive, and Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, are set to provide more details and answer questions inside the Foxcroft Academy gym.

By 5:30 p.m., a long line had formed outside the gym, as security officials open the doors and began letting people inside.

Vigue’s plan involves a 220-mile private toll road stretching from Calais to Coburn Gore, on its way to Montreal. At an estimated cost of $2 billion, it would be among the most expensive development projects in state history, paid for largely by investors and toll revenue. As a first step, a private consultant will conduct a feasibility study of the proposal, paid for by a $300,000 state loan that was championed by Republicans in the Legislature and supported by Gov. Paul LePage.

The East-West Highway is the latest attempt to establish a cross-Maine transportation route, an effort that dates to the 1930s. Many business leaders and politicians believe Maine could benefit from a road that can act as a shortcut for Canadian goods moving between Maritime seaports and Quebec.

The goal is to transform Maine into a trade gateway, rather than an obstacle to drive around

Supporters say the highway also would offer economic opportunities to struggling rural communities along the way, including Calais, Dover-Foxcroft and Jackman.

But some residents in those communities don’t want a highway running nearby. They have found allies in state and national activist groups concerned with issues ranging from water pollution to the impact on wildlife and property rights. These groups include the Sierra Club, the Forest Ecology Network and Defending Water in Maine.

Because of the scale and scope of the project, opponents say the East-West Highway is shaping up to become one of the state’s landmark development battles and set off a legal and political tussle that could drag on for years.

Scores of these opponents came to this town of 4,200, along the banks of the Piscataquis River, to fire an opening shot in that pending battle.

The atmosphere was festive, with a folk guitar duo playing in the warm afternoon. Participants mingled around, some wearing blaze orange T-shirts that read: “Friends of the Hollow Middle,” an apparent reference to a statement attributed to Vigue about this rural section of Maine.

Other people carried signs, such as: “Investors beware, rabble in roadway” and “Don’t break the heart of Maine.”

“We’re giving up far too much real estate for far too few jobs,” said Bryant Brown, who owns 150 acres in Monson and fears the road would go by or near his home.

By 5:45, the rally began to wind down and participants made their way to the gym, where Vigue’s presentation was set to begin.