ARUNDEL — Those leading the charge to build the east-west corridor have a vision for the future.

These investors believe that people and businesses will pay a toll to take a faster, shorter route across Maine and that by directly connecting the current North American highway system to Maine’s deepwater ports, new and lucrative international trade would follow.

Right now, everyone is awaiting the results of an independent and unbiased analysis of this idea that was funded by the Maine Department of Transportation. We hope its conclusions will clearly tell us if the east-west corridor is a great idea or an unrealistic project.

In the meantime, critics of the project are weighing in.

One point of opposition actually supports the investor’s basic premise: Easier access to Maine’s deepwater ports would bring economic growth. But these critics suggest this traffic can use our existing railroad system.

Their position begs an obvious question: If using the railroad is such a good idea, why hasn’t it been tried already?

The answer is simple. Because it doesn’t make economic sense. The principle of economics is that there are always limited resources that can have multiple uses. The best choice will always serve the needs of the customer.

In this case, we may agree that it is cheaper to move cargo along a mile of railroad compared to a mile of highway, but there are other important variables.

One variable is time. A truck driver can transport its load in a fraction of the time that it would take to load a rail car, assemble those rail cars into a long train, traverse a distance, break apart those rail cars and ultimately transfer that load onto a truck for final delivery.

Another variable is risk. Is that load going to show up where and when it is needed, undamaged from handling? Then there is flexibility: Can you make a last-minute decision on when to ship, where to ship and so forth?

Time, risk, flexibility and many other variables are all important factors.

In some cases, rail transportation is best. But most of the goods transported around North America move by truck because it is the overall best choice. That is not going to change.

Another big concern is the environment. On this topic there is also common ground. The proponents of the east-west corridor have acknowledged from the beginning that this project must be undertaken responsibly.

We have a process to ensure that called permitting. If the MDOT’s study supports construction of the corridor, it doesn’t mean the bulldozers can go to work; it means the investors can begin the environmental permitting process. That is not intended to be easy, but it is intended to be thorough.

Maine’s regulatory programs are among the most robust in the country because we all care about the environment. Anyone proposing to build any project of significance must first demonstrate that the project’s construction and operation will properly fit in with the environment.

Projects that create an environmental impact can still get a permit, but only if the impact is within acceptable standards. That is an important point; unreasonable environmental impacts mean a permit will be denied, regardless of the economic or other benefits promised from the project.

The investors in the east-west corridor must prove they can meet our environmental standards or they will not be allowed to build.

We all have a major role in the permitting process by communicating to our government what we consider to be an acceptable environmental impact. Environmental standards are established by law, and they are interpreted and enforced by our regulatory agencies. If the law is not strict enough, there is a political process to make it stronger.

If the investors in the east-west corridor can prove that their plans for the construction and operation of the highway can meet our standards, they can and should get a permit. That’s only fair.

If, sometime in the future, a permit is granted, the investors have to make another decision: While meeting these strict environmental standards, can they still afford to build the corridor at a cost that makes sense?

The investors in the east-west corridor, the critics and the public at large are all important participants in this process. Everyone needs to push for strict environmental standards and an open and fair permitting process. While we await the results of the MDOT report, let’s all agree to keep an open mind, respect the process and accept the outcome, whatever it is.

 

– Special to The Press Herald