We’re stuck and we need to get unstuck. We’re absolutely doing it to ourselves, and if we don’t come to terms with this sticky situation, it will prevent our growth over the next few decades. At first, this may appear to be a very specific complaint, but it’s much more prevalent than that and affects numerous projects across our state. The problem is this: Everybody says they want change until change needs to happen. The consistency in which we allow the opposition of only a few to impede our growth is at best aggravating and at worst pretty embarrassing for our policymakers and communities. To get unstuck, we need clear voices standing up and saying so.

Let’s start with the impetus for this week’s column, which is the disappointing news that the small group of people against the replacement of the decaying Frank J. Wood Bridge have decided to sue again in an effort to try and stop a new bridge from being built. In May, it will be seven years since I started at this chamber. The last piece of business that the chamber board did before beginning my hiring search was to make a declaration of support for replacement of the bridge in March 2016.

What are we doing?

We’ve gone over the numbers again and again, and apparently, those suing want to run the numbers one more time, because they’ve successfully delayed the project so long that now inflation has hit, and they think it may be less costly now to repair the bridge then replace it. Seven years of waiting, because less than 15% of people in the region wanted repair of the bridge, while over 85% wanted replacement. Replacement is the overwhelming position of the experts and the residents. In fact, I’m being generous with saying repair has even 15% support. I’ve heard it could be as few as three dozen people locally, while the rest of the repair support comes from people outside of the bridge communities.

If the project had gone through on the original timeline, it would likely be done or close to completion by now. But the delays have hurt us. The bridge continues to get downgraded during quarterly inspections. Chunks have literally fallen into a river that is home to a variety of species and wildlife. Commercial trucks are no longer allowed on it, and the next step will be for one-way traffic, and then no traffic at all.

Do you know what happens when the bridge closes? Nineteen thousand vehicles per day have to find a new way to get where they’re going. That means more Route 1 traffic and logjams on Topsham’s Coastal Connector. Bowdoin Mill businesses in Topsham will have to work three times harder to drive traffic to their doors, while downtown Brunswick will have to deal with more traffic of people just trying to get across town.


What if the bridge falls apart with a vehicle on it? What story will that tell, as we get labeled for having crumbling infrastructure and a lack of care for public safety?

We need voices to say, “Your objections have been noted, your voice has been heard, your opposition is recorded and your claims have been weighed, measured and thoroughly investigated. However, for the betterment of the communities as a whole, this project is moving forward just as the majority of people have made clear they want.”

I will say, the MDOT spokesperson, according to The Times Record story by John Terhune from March 5, said this lawsuit will not prevent them from opening bids on the project on March 8. However, I urge that this project is not delayed at any future point either. We need this bridge replacement now, and I hope the business leaders, community leaders and state leadership will echo our call that we cannot afford any more delays to this project.

Now, before you think this column is about only one bridge, I’ll remind you there are signs of small numbers of people trying to exert influence everywhere and not accepting outcomes of the majority. Nationwide, you hear stories of books being asked to be removed from school libraries because a small group of parents finds them to be lacking in one way or the other. Regardless of how those decisions come down, undoubtedly, the parents who lose that decision continue to bring up the decision and fight against it after it has already been decided.

Every state in the country has stories of when a new commercial development, construction project, school or affordable housing development is approved by a board that has taken all considerations into account, and yet a small group of neighbors oppose the expansion, even though the community as a whole wants it. There isn’t a month that goes by without a local newspaper somewhere in the country running a story about a group of neighbors trying to block homeless shelters, animal shelters, warming centers or soup kitchens from popping up in their neighborhoods.

This isn’t exclusively an issue in Maine; it’s an issue of our times. But regardless, we need to “unstuck” ourselves. We have expert panels who come together to find consensus on major issues, and after months and years of deliberations, we allow a small group of people to block that progress. Our change needs to move quicker than that or we won’t keep up with the development we need. One hundred percent agreement is not a realistic goal.

When there are two sides, someone will lose. We can’t stop meaningful projects because not everyone likes the decision. At some point, we need to stop delaying and we need to see action. All voices need to be heard — and we do a good job of that — but once the decision is made, we must follow through. If not, all of our best laid plans will literally crumble into the river while we’re waiting for everyone to agree.

Cory King is executive director of the Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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