NEWRY – About 50 people Wednesday pondered just what Maine wants to be when it grows up economically during a transportation planning conference.

Presented by the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, the third annual Western Maine Transportation Day lived up to some expectations of participants but disappointed others.

Two consecutive sessions during the 3-hour conference covered future transportation-related issues and looming and distant opportunities for economic development in western Maine.

“I was glad to see the dialog going on and I was happy to add my two-cents worth,” said Hartford Selectwoman Lee Holman.

But District 65 Rep. Arlan R. Jodrey, R-Bethel, expressed disappointment that talk skirted the issue of much-needed job development.

“It’s one thing to want everything, but you’ve got to create some jobs to support it,” Jodrey said.

District 67 Rep. Randy E. Hotham, R-Dixfield, echoed Jodrey’s concern.

“You have to have a plan that can be supported by the jobs it creates,” Hotham said.

During the first session, discussion centered mainly on deficiencies in Maine’s highway system and bridges.

Approximately 33 percent of Maine’s highway system doesn’t meet modern standards for pavement quality and roadway design, according to one AVCOG handout. Additionally, 14 percent of state-maintained bridges and steel culverts are structurally deficient.

AVCOG Executive Director Robert J. Thompson briefed the group on the proposed east-west highway and a perceived need for a regional airport to be located along Route 2 west of Norridgewock.

“They’re playing the same old record again. They’re talking long-term planning investment and the regional airport and that was done years and years ago, and at that time it was said that there is not a suitable site west of Norridgewock,” Jodrey said.

When questioned about the status of the east-west movement, Thompson said Congress set $1 million aside for MDOT to conduct a feasibility study.

That work would assess Maine’s existing highway systems and explore the relationship between transportation connections and potential growth.

Johnson said that by October, MDOT hopes to hire a consultant to do the study.

“The east-west highway is many, many years away. The question is, if we build a better corridor, can we create industry? We’re already heavily into the tourism industry,” Jodrey said.

Deciding where to locate such a system or just fix east-west arterials already in place were other concerns raised.

“Everyone basically wants it to go on Route 2, but will it have to be a toll road to pay for it if it was a four-lane divided highway? I think this group is saying, ‘Just give us an improved Route 2,'” Jodrey added.

Don Craig, transportation director for the Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center led the second session that explored rail system issues related to passenger transportation, freight movement and aviation.

“It’s a great idea to bring rail back, but I’ve heard stories that Amtrak is in trouble all over the place. Can we really pull this off?” Holman asked.

Both Craig and Thompson said yes.

“Rails are a lot more subsistent than highways are,” Thompson said.

Roland Miller, director of Community and Economic Development in Auburn, argued that improved and new railway systems are needed to increase economic development.

“Maine can’t support and expand a highway structure,” Miller said. “We can’t keep building more and more lanes. The California Project has taught us that. We have to look at other modes of transportation.”

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