MaineDOT suspends Gateway 1 effort
Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) announced in late February it was suspending Gateway 1, a planning initiative affecting a 110-mile stretch of U.S. Route 1 in Maine’s midcoast. The move was described as a cost-cutting effort.
“Given the significant and growing fiscal constraints under which we are operating, our top priority must be to focus our time and scarce resources on existing short-term critical infrastructure needs — roads and bridges primarily — to the greatest extent possible.”” wrote Bernhardt.
Gateway 1, initiated by MaineDOT six years ago, has been defined as a collaborative effort among 20 towns that lie along Route 1 between Brunswick and Stockton Springs. The goal of Gateway 1 was to plan regionally for land use and transportation and maintain the highway’s role as a regional arterial and economic lifeline while enhancing the quality of life.
As a result of the department’s action, collaboration with the MaineDOT, the Maine State Planning Office and the Federal Highway Administration on road projects have come to an end.
Don White of Camden, and voluntary chairman of the Gateway 1 Implementation Steering Committee, said he and the other municipal representatives on the committee had received a letter from Bernhardt informing them suspension of the Gateway 1 planning process was effective immediately.
In the letter Bernhardt wrote: “Having been briefed by MaineDOT staff about the Gateway 1 planning process, the commitments contained in the interlocal agreement, and the process by which municipalities would approve or reject moving forward with forming a corridor coalition, I discussed this information with the governor and senior staff in the administration. . .We have come to the conclusion that while Gateway 1 has been a very worthy effort, it does not correspond with the immediate priorities of this administration.”
While many of the community leaders involved in Gateway 1 have expressed dismay about MaineDOT’s decision, some local residents are greeting the news as a good thing.
“I’m glad that it happened,” Horatio Cowan of Rockland, an opponent of the plan, told the Bangor Daily News. “It is a radical change in land use regulations. I have a big problem with something that clandestinely tries to do major changes behind the back of the people.”
A March 4 editorial in the Bangor Daily News called the decision “rusty thinking” and suggested the move was ideologically motivated by a small group of residents that feared a “global conspiracy.” The editorial recounted the history behind the project that was to support, not undercut, local decision making: “Gateway 1 was launched as a way to empower locals. Cutting the program is the opposite of respecting the home rule principle.”
Amid the public debate on cutoff of Gateway 1, Adrienne Bennett, a spokesperson for the governor, reaffirmed that the state’s decision to stop funding for the project was to save money.
The Gateway 1 Plan began in 2004, after two earlier protests objecting to MaineDOT’s plans to widen Route 1. The state has spent approximately $2 million on the five-year planning effort. Much of the money was spent on the creation of a detailed “corridor action plan,” completed in July 2009. That plan has won awards, including the 2010 National Award for Rural Smart Growth from the Environmental Protection Agency. It was the first time the award was granted to a Maine project. Gateway 1 also won the “plan of the year” award from the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association.