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Proposed N.B.-Maine toll road could bolster Atlantica concept: APTA

ST. STEPHEN, N.B. - A proposed Maine toll road that would provide southwestern New Brunswick with a more direct link to New England and Central Canada may be a step in the right direction for proponen...

ST. STEPHEN, N.B. – A proposed Maine toll road that would provide southwestern New Brunswick with a more direct link to New England and Central Canada may be a step in the right direction for proponents of “Atlantica.”

The Atlantica concept, which has been in the discussion phase for many years, is a plan that seeks to rekindle the historical north-south trade routes between the Atlantic provinces and parts of New England in order to boost the social, economic and political climates of the region.

The toll road initiative is being directed by Maine-based project development and construction company Cianbro, which has a long history of project development and management in New England, particularly in the energy sector.

If approved, the road would be located parallel to and just north of Route 9 from Calais, Me. to Bangor, Me. with the eastern Canadian link found at St. Stephen, N.B.

Shortly before reaching Bangor, the road will deviate northward and cross Interstate 95 at Dover Foxcroft, where it will continue west to the Maine-Quebec border at Coburn Gore, Me. about 80 kilometres east of Sherbrooke, Que.

The proposed highway would potentially reduce travel time and costs for truckers travelling through the region significantly, according to the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA).

“The road would create a more expedient and direct link for Atlantic Canada to Central Canada,” said Peter Nelson, executive director of the APTA.

“The road is needed on many levels as a way of supporting both the region’s economy and to create a relationship between the Atlantic Gateway and the Ontario/Quebec Gateway concepts. In this regard this new link would be very important and greatly enhance existing trade routes for this region. The road would be a direct tie to the Atlantica concept as it would further create and enhance the trade triangle of Atlantic Canada and New England with Sherbrooke becoming a new and key player in this initiative.”

However, despite the potential boon for the local economy, there have been grumblings from the trucking community about adding more tolls to a region that has reached its “breaking point” with tolls.

“There will always be controversies when you build a new road of this nature, wherein it may cross Aboriginal (land), working woodlots or environmentally-sensitive lands,” Nelson noted. “This new road would be a privately built and maintained entity, because of that it may not classify under present initiatives related to toll roads in the US. For example, there are programs in the US that allow carriers to go back to each state and recover the costs of their toll miles.

“What would be needed in this case would be for the APTA to sit down with the four Atlantic Provinces and Ottawa and discuss a similar initiative to recover toll costs here from the six toll points in Atlantic Canada. The reason behind this is that while the new Maine route may be more expedient it will be expensive (related to toll costs) and we have to seek ways to stabilize growing transportation costs here in the Atlantic region.”

Though Nelson admits that the proposal is still in the wait-and-see phase of development, he acknowledges that all parties involved must work together from the beginning in order for the project to move forward successfully.

Part of that will be recognizing potential problems for partnering regions.

For example, though Atlantic Canada has expressed concern over paying additional tolls, the province of Quebec may have its own set of issues as the road’s proposed connection to the province may be in an inconvenient location.

“The concern is that it could be a road to nowhere as it connects to Quebec in an area with no good or direct roads to Sherbrooke,” Nelson says. “The city of Sherbrooke would have to be brought on-side to show them the potential of that city becoming a new east-west and north-south transportation link. Also, the Province of Quebec would have to build a new four-lane road from Sherbrooke to Coburn Gore in Maine. Atlantic Canada and Maine can get on-board, however, Quebec is a major player in this as well.”

To date, the APTA’s involvement has been to hold preliminary discussions with members of the executive of both the Atlantic Provinces Chamber of Commerce and other pro-Atlantica groups to encourage them to become involved and show support for the project.

However, at present, there have been no indications as to when the project will be approved, started or completed.

“It is a forward-thinking and positive initiative which will need a lot of work and cooperation by all players involved,” Nelson said.

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