BONUS REASON: POLITICS

• PARTISANSHIP AND NONPARTISANSHIP Democratic politicians, who are somewhat less deferential to corporate interests than Republicans, have begun to discern that the highway is unpopular.

Many Democrats in the House voted for the $300,000 study, including Representative Herbert Clark, of Millinocket, Senator Thomas's opponent in his re-election campaign. But Clark turned against it weeks before Thomas did.

"The whole thing doesn't add up," a pro-business Democratic state senator, Bill Diamond, of Windham, told the Press Herald on the subject of the highway. Democratic state senators, in fact, voted in a bloc against the highway study.

Apprehensions in the political class about the East-West Highway go beyond partisan politics and the Occupy-Tea Party grassroots folks. Peter Mills, for example, is a former Republican state senator and primary candidate for governor whose judgment is respected on many issues by people on both sides of the political divide.

Many thoughtful people believe big new superhighways should not be build ad-hoc — anything this huge should be carefully weighed against alternatives. Many transportation policy types feel Maine's decaying bridges and roads should be repaired and rebuilt before mammoth new roads are constructed.

"The state of Maine should not build any additional capacity for transportation" until we take care of what we have, says former Democratic state Senator Dennis Damon, a prior chairman of the legislative Transportation Committee.

Given the number and size of these 16 roadblocks, the fact that Vigue's idea is taken seriously is tribute to the reflexive deference paid in many political and news-media quarters to someone who — in Maine terms, anyway — represents Big Business.

Not that it's 100 percent impossible that the highway will be built. True Big Business, such as the Canadian and American energy giants that might have the most to gain from the highway-cum-utility corridor, have something potentially game-changing on their side: Big Money and the propaganda ("jobs!") and political influence it can buy.

Still, the roadblocks are immense. "A delusional idea," Carter calls the highway. "Pie-in-the-sky ridiculousness," says Buchanan.

Unless eminent domain is used, "there's a 0.02 percent chance it'll be built," says Alan Caron, an experienced, moderate political hand and former head of GrowSmart Maine, the anti-sprawl group.

To return to the graveyard metaphor, it's almost as if there's a tombstone every mile for the rationale for the East-West Highway.

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