Could a Toll Road Boost Maine's Economy at the Cost of its Identity?

Katharine Seelye writes on the clash between business interests and residents of rural Maine, where a proposed private toll road has revealed a difference in values.
August 7, 2012, 10am PDT | Emily Williams
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Some people will say, "If it's not broken, don't fix it." Others believe that though something may not be broken, it could still use a tune-up. Peter Vigue, chairman and chief executive of Cianbro Corporation in Maine, falls into the latter category. He saw the lack of east-west roads in Maine as a major obstacle to growing the state's economy, and has proposed a 220 mile-long $2 billion private toll road that would take advantage of its deep water port to increase trade through the region.

While Vigue's main goal lies in building the state's economy, the residents of Maine claim that things are just fine as they are. "Maine is a rural state, and this is a businessman who is trying to make it the Northeast trade gateway," says Chris Buchanan, statewide coordinator for Stop the Corridor, a coalition opposing the highway. Many residents like Buchanan appreciate Maine for its peaceful, green pastures and charming character. The toll road, they believe, would bring unsightly infrastructure and environmental pollutants.

"Tony Brinkley, a professor who works on economic development projects for the Franco-American Center at the University of Maine, said many in the state were torn over the proposal...For everyone worried about wrecking Maine's way of life, he said, others fear that doing nothing would leave the economy stagnant."

While the project awaits a feasibility study, residents are left questioning the project's objectives. As one resident puts it, "This area has been left behind, and that's the way we like it."

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Published on Saturday, August 4, 2012 in The New York Times
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