Maine-Atlantic Canada corridor could shave trip time

HALIFAX — A bold plan to build an east-west toll highway across Maine that would connect southwestern New Brunswick with Quebec near Sherbrooke was one of several highlights at the 2008 International Transportation Summit, hosted in Halifax last week by the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association.

It was a new and largely successful take on the association’s annual convention, the international theme supported by entertaining presentations from the heads of trucking associations in Australia, the U.K., and the U.S., in a session moderated by Canadian Trucking Alliance chief David Bradley.

APTA executive director Peter Nelson said attendance was especially high from carrier members, though the supplier ranks were noticeably slimmer than usual. By all accounts, some people from the latter community paid their own way to Halifax, corporate budgets having been cut.

Other highlights included the premiere showing of an inspiring video sponsored by Cummins that demonstrates just how environmentally clean the modern truck has become.

CTA’s David Bradley; Roger King of the U.K. Road Haulage
Association; Bill Graves of the ATA; Stuart St Clair of the Australian
Trucking Association; and Peter Nelson of the APTA.

Nothing, however, inspired quite like the closing dinner speech by General Rick Hillier, former Chief of Defence Staff with the Canadian Forces, recently installed as Chancellor at Memorial University in his native Newfoundland. He had some of the adoring crowd in tears as he described, in words, pictures and video clips, what it takes to be a Canadian soldier or airman, frequently focusing on acts of heroism. The audience gave him a three-minute standing ovation.

The proposed Maine corridor idea was first made public in the summer of 2007 by Cianbro Corp., one of Maine’s largest construction outfits, then presented in a more refined form this past April. It’s come further still in the intervening months, and Cianbro has since partnered with Berger Group, engineers. The idea is to connect the Maine/New Brunswick border at Calais/St. Stephen running northwest to the Maine/Quebec border at Coburn Gore/Woburn. Such proposals, and more than a few variations on the theme, have been raised many times before, but this one’s different.

A billion-dollar project, it’s to be financed with private money only, which makes it much more feasible than similar plans in the past. As well, the deep-water ports of Nova Scotia are soon going to attract large container ships coming from India and the Far East to North America through the Suez Canal.

Other ports along the U.S. eastern seaboard are either unable to handle such ships or already at capacity, and the most direct route from Halifax to Montreal and Toronto as well as Chicago and other midwestern U.S. cities is clearly through Maine. Compared to the Trans Canada Highway route via Riviere du Loup, the planned 350-km Maine toll road would shave some four to six hours and more than 300 km off the normal Halifax-to-Montreal trip.

Cianbro, not incidentally, would also undertake to build a new four-lane highway covering the 90 km from the crossing at Woburn, Quebec to Sherbrooke.

Cianbro’s Laurette Laverdiere told the APTA audience that the highway, not being part of the Interstate system, would employ Canadian size-and-weight laws. She also said modern electronic border clearance and security tools would be employed to make the crossing process easy. Confidently, she said the road would be ready in 2014.

The next speaker, however, brought things down to earth. Paul Morris, an executive director in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said things might not be so simple.

"There should not be an expectation that our security measures are going to go away," he said. Security requirements won’t be waived even if the truck is sealed and in transit to Quebec, he added.

Morris also noted that the Coburn Grove, Maine crossing is one of many 70-year-old border facilities in the U.S. that badly needs upgrading. It’s not even vaguely capable of handling truck volumes like those that this toll road would bring, he said, and the timeline for the necessary upgrading is typically at least seven years.

Earlier in his address, Morris said very firmly that current border security measures are justified, even in the face of trade priorities.

"We really do understand the need for facilitation, but we have to balance that with the need for security.

"There really is a threat out there. It has not diminished," Morris said. "The need for the security we’ve put in place over the last five years remains."

A more promising approach to cross-border trade was offered by the event’s luncheon speaker, Maria Luisa O’Connell, president of the Border Trade Alliance based in the United States. She said the number of U.S. communities that rely on exports is often underestimated in American political circles.

"Economic security is as important as our national security," she said, adding that fully one third of the $14 trillion U.S. economy is directly generated by international trade. "We cannot afford not to work together."


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