Scarborough-Gorham spur proposal depends on veto override

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AUGUSTA — The Maine House of Representatives Wednesday voted by a large margin to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a measure that would allow the Maine Turnpike Authority to construct a spur to Gorham.

The state Senate was expected to override the veto Thursday. If the Senate sustains LePage’s veto, however, the bill will die.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, is aimed at alleviating heavy commuter traffic in the Route 114 and Route 22 corridor, impacting Gorham, Scarborough, South Portland and Westbrook.

“Today’s vote in the House indicates this project is important not only to local and regional communities, but also for the entire state’s economy,” McLean, House chairman of the Transportation Committee, said Wednesday after the House override. He represents parts of both Gorham and Scarborough.

The House vote was 125-18, according to Lindsay Crete, communications director at the Maine State House Majority Office.

Earlier this month both legislative houses passed the proposal aimed at easing traffic snarls in the region of the four communities.

“Seeing how the bill flew through both bodies unanimously on enactment, I am hopeful the veto will be overridden,” Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, said Wednesday in a statement.

LePage announced Tuesday that he vetoed the proposal because he doesn’t want more tolls.

“Recently, I stated publicly that I support a connector in this area, but I don’t think that it should be a toll highway with the Maine Turnpike Authority,” LePage said in a letter May 16 to legislators.

LePage supports the construction of such a project by the Maine Department of Transportation and financed by a bond, according to his letter.

The bill, L.D. 905, would allow the turnpike authority to borrow up to $150 million to plan, design and build the spur. The project would likely link Route 114 at the Bernard P. Rines Bypass roundabout in South Gorham with the turnpike in the area of Exit 45 (Maine Mall Road/Payne Road) in Scarborough.

Westbrook City Manager Jerre Bryant, who hadn’t seen LePage’s letter, said Wednesday that he didn’t know the governor’s reasoning for a veto.

“Our thought was  it was going to be expensive,” Bryant, who was involved with the idea for a spur from its inception, said. “By involving the Maine Turnpike Authority it would be self-funding.”

If the turnpike authority built it, Bryant said, people using the spur would pay for it without relying on taxpayers’ money.

Westbrook Mayor Michael Sanphy said taxpayers are burdened enough already. “The turnpike is the most logical way to go,” Sanphy said.

The Gorham Town Council “strongly supported” the bill, Town Manager David Cole said Wednesday. “The town is very disappointed that this important legislation, that also received strong support in the Legislature, would be vetoed by the governor.”

Volk also said she was disappointed because the project would provide “much-needed relief” to commuters.

“Daily traffic congestion and associated environmental threats to the villages of South Gorham, North Scarborough and nearby regions are significant and have been growing worse for a long time,” the senator said.

The Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Turnpike Authority a few years ago joined the four communities in a study of traffic congestion in the area. Results indicated that land use changes and transit expansion should be implemented in conjunction with adding more highway capacity by either constructing a new highway or widening existing roads.

Spur construction would hinge on another study to evaluate alternatives, as required under the Sensible Transportation Policy Act.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com

The Legislature is expected to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would authorize construction of a spur linking the Maine Turnpike with Route 114 in South Gorham, likely in the area of the Bernard P. Rines Bypass roundabout.

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