Two years ago GrowSmart first expressed our concerns with Maine Turnpike Authority’s plans to build a new section of highway from I-95 to Gorham, after we hosted a webinar to hear from the MTA, local communities and regional and national voices.

Recently, we revised our position in response to new details about the timing and design of the proposed highway, urging Mainers to recognize that we can do better in addressing commuter traffic. Just because another length of road seemed a good idea in prior decades doesn’t mean we have to proceed with building it now. It would be better to have a more comprehensive, long-term solution, a solution that sets an example of smart, climate-sensitive, transportation and land use planning.

This isn’t just about a five-mile highway expansion. This is about how Maine chooses to grow.

Beyond the immediate impact of this proposed project on important natural spaces in Gorham – Smiling Hill Farm and Red Brook, namely – the harmful social and environmental consequences of highway expansion projects like this leave behind long term damage in virtually every case across the country. In another sense, the conversations taking place in Gorham and surrounding communities represent an opportunity to rethink the way Maine communities grow and to reimagine how problems like traffic congestion can be solved.

There are changes at the State level that show a maturing in our thinking – an evolution in how we approach problems that intersect land use, transportation, housing, economic development and strategic land conservation.

Imagine if this idea were brought fresh to the soon-to-be formed Office of Community Affairs, whose creation is part of the recently passed supplemental budget. The role of this new agency is to create a first-stop for technical assistance where numerous government agencies can collaborate on an issue to offer more than a single solution.


The same is true of L.D. 1673, which passed this session, establishing a working group to coordinate collaboration among state agencies. The Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future will convene MaineDOT, and several other agencies to design a plan for agency coordination and propose technical assistance grants for municipalities to develop ordinances and zoning regulations governing high-use corridors. We doubt that the “just lay down more concrete” idea would get very far.

While Maine Turnpike Authority says it was simply responding to outreach from the communities west of Portland when it kicked off planning this project nearly 20 years ago, the recently adopted regional transportation plan engaged those same communities and others to envision a future that does not prioritize new highway development.

Smarter solutions emerge by directly linking land use and transportation; highway expansion without corresponding change to land use will not solve traffic issues.

Solving congestion means addressing the current disconnect between location of housing, jobs, daily services and transportation options. While there are certainly infrastructure improvements that can and should be made (roundabouts to replace traffic lights, modest road widening in places it makes sense, improved buffers to allow for safe active transportation), subtle behavioral shifts can go a long way in curbing congestion during peak travel times.

Mainers for Smarter Transportation (M4ST) is a group of individuals and organizations in the greater Portland region who are committed to finding viable alternatives to this proposed highway expansion project. Their work will be published in coming weeks, detailing specific changes that can be made at a fraction of the cost and without irreversible consequences.

Before $250 million is spent on a project with dubious long-term upsides – a project that will likely raise tolls on the main line of the turnpike while permanently removing farmland and natural resources and inducing the costly cycle of sprawl – let’s work together to solve this region’s congestion problem in a smart, equitable, and climate-sensitive way. As Maine continues to grow, now is the time to build muscle memory around problem-solving that creates happy, healthy and livable communities.

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