Unfortunately, discussions about freeways dominated the joint Portland-South Portland City Council meeting last night. As if the concrete fantasies of Augusta's hidebound engineers are the most pressing issues facing our cities.
Fortunately, though, the discussion focused on how the Turnpike Authority and Maine Dept. of Transportation just can't afford to build new freeways. Of course, that's never stopped them from building freeways before, but wherever this bolt of fiscal responsibility came from, it's a welcome change. Here's Portland Press Herald staff writer Elbert Aull's report:
Falling traffic numbers have put plans to widen a stretch of the Maine Turnpike in Greater Portland on ice.
The turnpike authority has decided to delay adding two lanes to the highway from Scarborough to Falmouth for at least two years, said Conrad Welzel, head of government relations for the turnpike authority.
The decision comes at a time of rising fuel prices and sluggish monthly traffic numbers on Maine's busiest highway corridor.
But then, Aull writes about a $20 million project to widen I-295 between Fore River and the Maine Mall (right next to the state's most polluted waterway, Long Creek): "About $20 million... [to] widen a stretch of I-295 between exits 3 and 4 in South Portland and renovate interchanges in South Portland, Portland, Falmouth and Yarmouth has already received federal funding and will move forward next year as planned, department officials said."
Really? $20 million for a highway widening (pictured above) along a corridor that holds one of the richest opportunities for transit in the state? For half the price, our cities could build a modern bus rapid transit system between the Mall and downtown Portland:
If MDOT is really serious about widening this freeway at a time when the agency can't even afford to fill potholes, businesses can't afford to pay truckers, and commuters can't afford to fill their gas tanks, then we the people of Maine need to get serious about a lawsuit to stop this destructive waste of money.