The Portland City Council this week asked the Maine Turnpike Authority to halt work on a four-lane toll highway to communities west of the city, arguing that the project known as the Gorham Connector is incompatible with local and state plans to combat climate change and that planners should consider reducing rush-hour traffic with rapid transit.

City Councilors unanimously approved a resolution asking that work be stopped on the five-mile road until a study examining the possibility of a rapid transit link from Portland to Gorham is complete. They also asked that the final decision on the project align with Maine’s emissions reductions goals.

Communities such as Gorham and Scarborough say that the limited-access highway is necessary to relieve congestion on local roads.

The Maine Turnpike Authority, the agency tasked with building the road, said it is still researching the project and has no immediate construction plans.

“We are doing a lot of traffic analysis and doing a lot of environmental analysis. It is preparation for the day we want to file for a permit application,” said Peter Mills, executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority.

“There is no occasion for us to cease what we are doing right now and what the neighboring towns want us to do, which is complete the groundwork,” Mills said.


The council’s resolution asked the Greater Portland Council of Governments, which is doing the rapid transit study, to include in that study a comparison of the climate impacts of a transit link versus the Gorham Connector. The study was funded with $800,000 in federal assistance last year. It is expected to be completed in 2023.

In a statement, GPCOG Director of Strategic Partnerships Belinda Ray said the organization had no role in crafting the resolution but takes requests from member communities seriously and will discuss how to respond to Portland.

Councilor Andrew Zarro, who sponsored the resolution, said a report published 10 years ago that proposed adding road capacity in the region needs to be revisited. In the years since, Maine has pursued a plan to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050 that relies on reducing vehicle miles traveled. Building a new road, he said, also could undermine the impetus to develop rapid transit in the same area.

“If we are looking to get more folks using public transportation and reducing the number of people driving, it logically makes sense that we would revisit this,” Zarro said at Monday’s City Council meeting. He did not respond to interview requests Thursday.

At the time that the decade-old report came out, planners envisioned building a road to link Interstate 95 near the Maine Mall to Route 114 in Gorham.

Heavy traffic during morning and evening rush hours has long made sections of Routes 114 and 25 severely congested, and local communities have been asking for relief for decades.


In 2017, lawmakers directed the Maine Turnpike Authority to study and construct the spur and authorized borrowing $150 million for the project. Costs have soared since, with a 2019 project estimate increasing to $236 million. Scarborough, Westbrook, Gorham and South Portland reaffirmed support for the project this year. The connector has been projected to open in 2026.

“We see virtual gridlock at the commuting hours in North Scarborough. We expect very much that a limited-access connector would do great things to alleviate the congestion in local roads,” Scarborough Town Manager Thomas Hall said.

At the same time, he agreed that expanded transit and denser development would help preserve road capacity so a new road isn’t rapidly clogged by single-occupant vehicles.

“I don’t think there is any single answer here. It is very much a combination of transit and systems that are more efficient and more effective,” Hall said.

In Gorham, Town Council Chairman Lee Pratt said the connector is crucial not just to easing traffic but to the town’s economic future. Gorham is constructing an industrial park that would lie very near the planned highway, a key selling point for businesses to locate there. It feels unfair, he said, to stop planning for the road when a public transit alternative could take much longer to implement and might never materialize.

“You can’t argue that mass transit isn’t important to the state of Maine, but you are looking at projects that could take 20 to 30 years,” Pratt said. “To stall a project that could take two to three years doesn’t add up.”

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