FARMINGTON — It may take another 10 years, but a 220-mile highway from Coburn Gore to Calais is going to be built, Darryl Brown of Cianbro construction company said Tuesday.
"It's been talked about since 1937 but it's going to happen," Brown, of Livermore Falls, told those at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce business breakfast at the University of Maine at Farmington.
Brown, formerly of Main-Land Development Consultants, recently joined Cianbro as manager of the $2.1 billion project for company president and CEO Peter Vigue.
Supporters foresee the potential of shipping containers from around the world destined for Eastport, then transported across Maine and Canada to markets in Chicago and beyond, Brown said.
"We know container traffic is expected to increase three-fold, and existing ports can't handle them. But we have the deep water," he said of the potential to lure tanker traffic to Eastport.
The Panama and Suez canals are currently being widened and deepened to handle tanker ships hauling containers globally, a mode of transportation expected to triple by 2024. Plans for a container tanker dock at Portland were recently announced, he said.
While direct studies of the potential for bringing cargo ships to Eastport have not been done, east-west highway advocates are thinking 10 years out, he said.
It's about Maine and Maine's economy, Brown said, while reviewing statistics. He cited Forbes magazine's listing of best states for business, which places Maine at 50th. He said Maine is also ranked 48th for non-farm employment growth, 36th for poverty level and has a median age that is the oldest in the nation.
"Maine's largest export is not potatoes, blueberries or wood, it's our young people looking for meaningful employment," Brown said. "If we don't step up to the plate and not allow the state to become a playground for the wealthy, shame on us."
New England may be the end of the road and "we're just up here in the woods," Brown said, but Eastport has the deepest water in the continental United States with a capacity to handle the larger tankers.
The toll highway would be open to all modes of travel, not just truckers, he said. The highway would pay taxes within in each town it crosses, contract with state police for patrol and not have the ability to take property by eminent domain, Brown said.
Construction would be done by Maine people and companies, Brown said.
Cianbro, based in Pittsfield, has thousands of employees at job sites across the United States, according to its website.
Lining up private funders for the east-west highway is under way, Brown said, and route designs are expected to be finished by the end of this year. Planners anticipate three years to get permits and handle any lawsuits, and another three years for construction, with completion in nine to 10 years, he said.
The plan also includes an all-purpose, recreational trail across the state for snowmobilers, all-terrain vehicles, hikers and bikers.
More information is available at www.eastwestme.com