Abby King, a Gorham resident, speaks against the planned Gorham Connector at a press conference Monday at Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook. Kelley Bouchard/Staff Writer

A tunnel could be built beneath the proposed Gorham Connector to ensure that Smiling Hill Farm retains access to its property on the west side of the planned highway spur, a representative of the Maine Turnpike Authority told a crowd of more than 300 gathered in the Shaw Gym in Gorham Monday night.

The authority also is considering a land swap and other measures to offset the nearly 50 acres of the 500-acre farm that are needed to build the 5-mile, four-lane toll road from Maine Turnpike Exit 45 in South Portland to the Gorham Bypass at Route 114 in Gorham.

More than 300 people attended a meeting Monday night on the proposed Gorham Connector hosted by the Maine Turnpike Authority at the Shaw Gym in Gorham. Kelley Bouchard/Staff Writer

“We recognize that every acre is important to the farm,” said Paul Godfrey, vice president of HNTB, the engineering company overseeing the increasingly controversial connector project.

But overall, Godfrey said, the heavily reviewed connector proposal is the best alternative to address traffic congestion west of Portland in a way that maximizes safety and sustainable mobility with the opportunity to provide rapid public transit in the future.

The authority’s preferred route would negatively affect 65% to 70% fewer parcels and 50% fewer buildings than other widening or route options, he said. Godfrey emphasized that the project isn’t a “done deal” and still needs state and federal environmental permits. The public process starts now, he said, and construction could begin as soon as late 2025.

Warren Knight, whose family has owned Smiling Hill Farm for 304 years, was the first member of the public to speak at the meeting hosted by the authority. Standing in front of the audience, he asked Godfrey to draw where the connector would be built on a poster-size photograph for the farm property. Using a black marker, Godfrey drew a line along a wooded area in the distance.


“That’s unacceptable to our family,” Knight said, drawing applause from the crowd. “I know this community, this state can do better.”

Paul Drinan, a Westbrook resident who founded Vision Zero Maine to advocate for safe streets and active transportation policy, said highway expansions are historically harmful to the surrounding communities, the environment and do not solve the problem of traffic congestion.

“If anything, these projects have been shown to exacerbate the problem and yield undesirable outcomes such as sprawl, pollution, poor health, financial burdens and divided communities,” Drinan said.

Warren Knight, whose family has owned Smiling Hill Farm for over 300 years, speaks against the planned Gorham Connector at a press conference at the farm in Westbrook on Monday. Kelley Bouchard/Staff Writer

Hans and Elizabeth Hansen, of Gorham, said the connector would increase safety at the intersection of routes 114 and 22. They said 20,000 vehicles pass through the intersection daily and the number will increase as a result of planned residential and commercial development.

“(The connector) is needed to make it much safer and alleviate the traffic congestion going through this intersection,” Hans Hansen said. “My wife and I are 100% behind the (connector).”

In the planning stages since 2007, the connector’s preferred route was announced in February after the authority studied various alternatives as directed in the 2017 bill that authorized its construction. The legislation was endorsed by elected officials in South Portland, Scarborough, Westbrook and Gorham, the authority says.


The authority’s meeting at the gym was preceded by an open house from 4:30-6 p.m., when attendees could view displays and ask questions about the route, funding, environmental impacts and other topics.

Earlier in the day, opponents of the connector gathered at Smiling Hill Farm to voice their objections to the proposed highway spur in advance of the public meeting.


Abby King, who lives in Gorham, was among about 50 people who attended the news conference in the muddy barnyard of the the farm on County Road. Many wore red T-shirts that said “Help Save Smiling Hill Farm” and stickers saying “Stop Highway Expansion.”

“I am terrified of what Gorham will become if the Maine Turnpike Authority wins its fight against our community,” said King, who attended with her husband and 10-month-old daughter. “The Gorham Divider would be an epic mistake that will change the character of Gorham forever. There will be no coming back from it.”

The preferred connector route requires 47.3 acres, or nearly 10% of the farm, including a 32.5-acre strip west of the barnyard and lumber company complex, which is on the north side of County Road, and 14.4 acres on the south side of County Road.


Peter Mills, the authority’s executive director, has said that the connector route has been designed to avoid and mitigate environmental impacts wherever possible in anticipation of community concerns and reviews by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversee construction in and near wetlands and waterways.

Speakers at the news conference said the connector would worsen or simply relocate traffic congestion and exacerbate pollution and other environmental problems.

Tuck O’Brien, a Portland resident and representative of Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit that works to preserve and restore fish habitat, said the connector would jeopardize the clean, cool headwaters of Red Brook, a tributary to Clarks Pond in South Portland that is active habitat for brook trout.

The yellow areas show the parts of Smiling Hill Farm that Maine Turnpike Authority hopes to use for its Gorham Connector. The rest of the farm’s property is shown in blue. Courtesy of Maine Turnpike Authority

Sadie Donnell, a Gorham resident, said the region’s traffic challenges present a “huge opportunity” to expand public transportation and reduce the number of cars on the road, rather than move them from one road to another.

At the press conference, Warren Knight questioned whether the authority chose to build the connector through the farm because it was easier to cross and the cheapest alternative for a project expected to cost well over $200 million.

“We don’t think that’s right or fair,” Knight said. “Why should open space and farmland be considered expendable?”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.