The study also won't consider alternatives to beef up east-west traffic such as upgrading the rail line that crosses the state from Quebec through Jackman and Vanceboro to New Brunswick — an alternative some East-West Highway critics promote.

According to Chalmers "Chop" Hardenbergh, editor of Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports, rail advocates have long pointed to the Vanceboro-Jackman line, operated by the American-owned Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway and Canadian-owned New Brunswick Southern Railway, as an alternative.

"Upgrading that line would cost far less than creating a 2000-foot-wide animal barrier across Maine," he said, referring to the highway's effect on the movements of wild animals. Moreover, "If we could load truck trailers onto railcars for a high-speed rail trip across Maine, we'd see much less diesel burned and much less air pollution than in that corridor."

In rebuttal to the rail alternative, Vigue asked: "Where's the critical mass of riders that will support a passenger rail service?" Passenger service ended on the line in 1994. But it has yet to be determined if car and truck traffic on the proposed highway will have a critical mass. The MDOT's feasibility study will address this question.

SEEKING ALERT DRIVERS Cutting across all of Maine risks major wildlife impact.


"We're quite proud of this foray into Maine boosterism," said Stephen Hornsby, director of the Canadian-American Center, the economic-integration conference's host in Orono, as he introduced Vigue.

The two-day university conference frankly promoted the highway. The subject was the broader topic of economic relations between the two countries, but much of the morning of April 24 was given over to the highway proposal. Vigue gave a speech and later participated in a panel with American and Canadian officials.

Vigue presented the highway as a project of international significance that would connect Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, especially growing Canadian ports, directly to the continent's industrial heartland. And as Canada develops hydroelectric resources, he sees the corridor becoming a major conduit to the west and south.

Describing the project, too, as a powerful economic change agent for Maine, with the state becoming "the Northeast trade gateway," he spoke of road or rail connections with the limited-access highway at or near Old Town, Milo, Dover-Foxcroft, The Forks, and Eustis.

Vigue said he didn't want to reveal a precise route because landowners might be "intimidated or harassed" by opponents. He maintained, however, that, unlike previous East-West Highway proposals, the route he would propose generally would avoid developed areas. He thought the highway could be open for business by 2019.

In answer to a question from the sympathetic audience of about 40 government officials, businesspeople, and academics from both countries, Vigue admitted that bridging the Penobscot and Kennebec rivers presents "a very significant challenge." He touted another sort of bridge, for wildlife to go over the highway, as a "creative" approach to solving environmental problems.

In panel discussions following his speech, there was extensive talk about the barriers presented to Canadian-American trade by increased border security after 9/11. While Vigue sees his highway bringing more Canadian tourists to Maine — he said Canadians already provide $230 million in tourism income to the state — the US consul in Quebec City, Peter O'Donohue, said Canadians feel "intimidated" by US border controls.

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