June 1, 2012

East-West Highway link not yet on Quebec's agenda

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Authorities in Quebec say they've had no contact with Pittsfield--based Cianbro regarding the proposed East-West Highway since 2008.

The proposed $2 billion toll road aims to connect Maine and New Brunswick to Montreal and the industrial Midwest of the United States and Canada. While the highway would link to a four-lane, controlled-access highway at St. Stephen, New Brunswick, to the east across the border from Calais, there is no such link on the Quebec side, heading west from Coburn Gore.

In order to complete the high-speed route to Montreal and beyond, a new highway would have to be built from Coburn Gore across 60 miles of southeastern Quebec to Sherbrooke, where it could connect with Quebec Autoroute 10.

"Our department met with Cianbro in 2008 and we explained the steps and process through which this type of project has to go in Quebec," said Quebec Ministry of Transportation spokesman Mario St-Pierre, who said the ministry had offered to help Cianbro negotiate the process.

"Since 2008, we haven't heard from them," he said.

Local political representatives had a similar experience.

"The idea was presented to elected people here in Quebec, but since 2008 we didn't have more information back from the promoter, Cianbro," said Veronique Lachance, political attache to Johanne Gonthier, the representative to the National Assembly of Quebec for Lac-Megantic and the Estrie region.

Sources in the Sherbrooke area said they were doubtful that the province would build a highway anytime soon, given the backlog of projects in the province. A bypass to Autoroute 10 in the Sherbrooke area, Autoroute 410, remains incomplete nearly two decades after it was first discussed.

The existing road from Coburn Gore is a winding, two-lane road. A multilane highway would likely shave an hour off the overall travel time to Montreal, making the east-west route more competitive with the Trans Canada Highway, which curves around northern Maine.

Peter Vigue, CEO of Cianbro, said his company has a plan to facilitate creation of the Coburn Gore-Sherbrooke link, but that he could not share any details.

"Hope is not a strategy," he said. "So we have a strategy and we have a plan and I'm very satisfied with it and it will allow us to go forward in the future across the border."

Vigue has said his toll highway across Maine could be completed as early as 2019.

"We're well aware of the protocol and how things work in the province of Quebec," he said. "It's a work in progress as we speak."

While the Ministry of Transportation reports having no contact in recent years, St-Pierre said it does regard the project in a positive light.

"The (ministry) believes it could be beneficial to all regions of Quebec, especially the Estrie area, and well-fitting into a policy of rural development, " he said.

Staff Writer Colin Woodard can be

contacted at 791-6317 or at:

cwoodard@mainetoday.com

 

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