Summary of findings



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A SUMMARY OF THE FINDINGS OF STUDIES REGARDING A MAINE EAST-WEST HIGHWAY

Prepared by


Maine Department of Transportation and
Maine State Planning Office
September 1999

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

Purpose of Study

The Maine Department of Transportation and Maine State Planning Office have completed studies in response to a law enacted by the 118th Maine Legislature requiring a study to determine the costs and economic benefits relative to the development of an east-west highway in Maine, linking to the east with the Canadian Maritime Provinces and to the west with the larger markets of Quebec, Ontario, and the Midwestern United States. The basic objective of these studies was to provide policy makers with a sound base of knowledge regarding the costs, benefits, and potential impacts associated with both the improvement of Maine’s existing east-west highways as well as the construction of a new 4-lane limited access highway. This document summarizes the findings of these studies.

East-West Highway Corridors

Five alternative corridors were selected on which to focus the economic research and engineering and environmental assessments; three upgrade alternatives, and two 4-lane limited access alternatives on new alignment. The corridors were selected to represent a broad range of alternatives serving the northern, central, and southern regions of the State. The two 4-lane limited access corridors (D & E) presented and discussed should not be accepted or presumed as the only and final selections, but as a demonstration of possible alternatives. Any assumptions as to precise location and scope of improvement are premature and beyond the scope of these studies.

Corridor Upgrade Alternatives

Corridor "A" - The Alternate Trans-Maine Trail Beginning at the Canadian border in Vanceboro, proceeding westerly via Route 6 through Lincoln, Milo, Dover-Foxcroft, and Guilford to Abbot, then westerly via Route 16 to Bingham. The trail then proceeds northerly along Route 201 to Jackman and Sandy Bay at the Canadian Border. (Includes Routes 6, 16 & 201).

Corridor "B" - The East-West Highway Beginning at the Maine/New Brunswick border proceeding westward along Route 9 to 46 in East Eddington. The corridor continues southerly along Route 46 to Route 1A in East Holden, then westerly along Route 1A to I-395 in Brewer, connecting with I-95 at or near Bangor. It then continues southwesterly along existing I-95, leaving I-95 in Newport. From this point, it continues westerly along route 2 to the Maine/New Hampshire border at Gilead. (Includes Routes 9, 46, 1A, I-395, I-95 & 2)

Corridor "C" - The East-West Highway (Alternate) Beginning at the Maine/New Brunswick border proceeding westward along Route 9 to Route 46 in East Eddington. The corridor continues southerly along Route 46 to Route 1A in East Holden, then westerly along Route 1A to I-395 in Brewer, connecting with I-95 at or near Bangor. It then continues southwesterly along existing I-95, leaving I-95 in Newport. From this point, it continues westerly along Route 2 to Route 27 in Farmington. It then continues northwesterly along Route 27 to the Maine/Quebec border at Coburn Gore, linking Sherbrooke and Montreal via Quebec Route 10. (Includes Routes 9, 46, 1A, I-395, I-95, 2 and 27)

Corridors on New Alignment

Corridor "D" A limited access 4-lane highway, predominately on new alignment, beginning at the Maine/New Brunswick border, at a location somewhere in the vicinity of the Calais/Baileyville area connecting to Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton via NB Routes 1 and 2. The corridor then proceeds westward along or south of Route 9, connecting with I-95 at or near Bangor, and continues southwesterly along existing I-95, leaving I-95 anywhere between Newport and Augusta. From this point, it continues northwesterly to the Maine/Quebec border at or near Coburn Gore, linking Sherbrooke and Montreal via Quebec Route 10.

Corridor "E" A limited access 4-lane highway, predominately on new alignment beginning at the Maine/New Brunswick border, at a location somewhere in the vicinity of Calais/Baileyville connecting to Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton via NB Routes 1&2. The corridor then proceeds westward along or south of Route 9, connecting with I-95 at or near Bangor, and continues southerly along existing I-95/I-495, leaving I-95/I-495 anywhere between Augusta and Gray. It then continues generally northwesterly to the Route 2 corridor crossing into New Hampshire at or near Gilead, linking New Hampshire, Vermont, and Montreal via Route 2 and I-89.

Key Findings

The following section provides a brief summary of the key findings of the several technical reports (see bibliography) developed in support of the subject study.

Traffic


Current average annual daily traffic (AADT) volumes on most of the major rural east-west highway segments are relatively light. 1999 volumes on the rural portions of the existing east-west highways range from a low of 400 vehicles per day to a high of approximately 9,000. Traffic volumes on these highways increase substantially as they pass through the "built-up" areas of the many communities situated along the east-west corridors.

Auto travel from Canada to Maine has declined over the past 5 years while truck travel has steadily increased. In 1992, approximately 2,997,000 autos crossed into Maine at the five principle east-west border crossings (Calais, Houlton, Jackman, Coburn Gore, Vanceboro). By 1997, this number decreased to 2,192,000. On the other hand, trucks entering Maine from Canada increased from 193,000 in 1992 to 302,000 in 1997. Presently, 12,800 vehicles per day cross the US/Canadian border (both directions) at these locations, of these, 1,500 are commercial trucks.

The volume of existing east-west travel through Maine is relatively minor. A trip origin-destination survey conducted at the US/Canadian border at Calais/St.Stephen indicates that approximately 8% of the auto travel is east-west oriented - to or from Quebec, Ontario, New Hampshire, Vermont or upstate New York. East-west truck travel is negligible. Most east-west traffic on Route 9 is destined to the I-95 corridor.

Statewide travel is forecast to grow at a modest rate through the year 2030. By the year 2030, Maine’s population is expected to grow to 1.48 million people while its employment grows to approximately 850,000 jobs. Based on this growth, overall statewide travel is forecast to grow at a rate of approximately 0.73 percent per year.

Travel between Maine and Canada is forecast to grow at a greater rate than overall statewide travel. This forecast explicitly assumes a significant appreciation in the Canadian dollar to a level not seen in more than fifteen years. However, based on an assumption that the US/Canadian exchange rate approximates its 30-year average by the year 2015 and beyond, auto trips between Maine and the Maritimes will grow by nearly 50 percent by the year 2030 while truck travel grows at an even faster rate - nearly 100 percent in some cases. Auto trips between Southern Maine Coast and the Province of Quebec are forecast to grow by 50 percent as truck travel increases by nearly 50 percent.

Improvements on the five conceptual east-west highway corridors produce reductions or savings to system-wide vehicle-hours of travel. Because the alternative corridors provide a faster route to travel, within and through the State, they all result in a reduction of vehicle-hours of travel. The greatest reductions are produced by Corridors D & E.

Statewide travel is forecast to grow further as the result of the increased economic activity generated by each of the five east-west alternative corridors. This additional "induced" travel ranges from 6,800 trips per day (Corridor A) to 24,400 trips per day (Corridor D), representing a 0.13% to 0.45% increase in overall statewide travel, respectively. Most of this induced growth is the result of increased auto travel within Maine. The greatest percentage increase in travel is associated with auto travel between Maine and Canada, ranging from 5.3 percent (Corridor A) to 9.8 percent (Corridor E).

Upgraded east-west highway corridors are expected to carry increased volumes in 2030, compared to the no-build condition. An upgraded Route 9 is projected to carry 1,600 (Corridor B) to 2,100 (Corridor C) more vehicles on an average daily basis compared to the no-build condition. Similar increases in daily volumes of 1,600 to 2,300 are projected for I-95 between Bangor and Newport. An upgraded Route 27, is also projected to carry 1,000 to 1,600 additional vehicles per day by 2030. The Corridor B upgrade of Route 2 is expected to have a minimal impact on year 2030 AADT of only 100 vehicles per day (compared to the no-build condition) at the New Hampshire border.

Construction of a new 4-lane limited access highway between Calais and Bangor would result in a substantial diversion of traffic off existing Routes 1 and 9. A new 4-lane alignment is projected to carry an AADT of 11,400 to 11,600 in 2030. Such a route would remove nearly all of the existing traffic off of Route 9, as well as cut projected future traffic on Route 1 by roughly 2,300 vehicles per day below current levels. These projects indicate that a new four lane alignment east of Bangor could cause significant bypass effects of Route 1 commercial activity in the coastal communities between Bangor and Calais.

Truck travel on Maine roads is projected to increase substantially over the forecast period. Total annual vehicle-hours of truck travel (VHT) on Maine highways are projected to reach 26.8 million in 2015, and grow to 32.6 million hours by 2030. Of these totals, trips through Maine should account for just under 28% of system-wide truck VHT (roughly 7.5 million hours) by 2015. Due to the expected rapid growth of Atlantic Canada freight movements to US markets, though truck VHT is expected to grow to 32% of the system-wide total (reaching 10.5 million) by 2030. The remaining majority of truck VHT, roughly 19.3 million hours in 2015 and growing to 22.1 million hours in 2030, represents truck travel to and/or from Maine industries.

Year 2030 traffic flow on Maine’s existing east-west highway corridors is expected to remain relatively uncongested. The capacity of the rural segments of the existing east-west corridors is sufficient to accommodate year 2030 traffic volumes at a satisfactory level of service.

Traffic congestion is common in the urban compact areas of many of the communities located along the existing east-west highways. This congestion will become more of a concern as traffic volumes continue to grow. Significant improvements, such as localized bypasses, may be required to improve traffic flow through these areas.

The diversion of Canadian travel into and through Maine can depend upon a number of factors including; delays at the border, cost of fuel, truck weight limits, and possible toll rates. From a survey of shippers, conducted as part of this study, it was found that these four specific issues are not of significant importance in terms of being an impediment to commerce. Congestion and delay at the border generated the most concern from respondents followed by the cost of tolls, differential truck weights, and the cost of fuel.

Engineering and Environmental Assessment

Corridor Upgrades

In assessing the highway upgrade needs associated with Corridors A through C a set of standards relative to roadway design, safety, travel speed, and capacity were adopted that would ideally result in an efficient 2-lane highway system capable of sustaining travel speeds of 55 mph or greater. The resulting system would be a high-type design with 12-foot travel lanes, 8-foot paved shoulders, periodic passing lanes, truck climbing lanes, turn lanes at all major intersections, and in some instances, new highway segments.

A significant portion of Maine’s existing east-west highways do not meet the standards established for this study and require some level of improvement to bring them to the desired standard. Of the approximately 865 miles of existing east-west highway corridors identified in this study, seventy percent have been identified as in need of improvement, at a cost of nearly $494 million ($290 million - total reconstruction; $64 million - minor widening; $62 million operational enhancements; $77 million - potential new construction which includes a new border crossing in the Calais area, a connector between I-395 and Route 9, and a relief route around the greater Skowhegan area).

Upgrading existing east-west highway corridors will result in a modest decrease in border-to-border travel time. An improved Corridor A would save approximately 54 minutes in a trip from Vanceboro to Sandy Bay. An upgraded Corridor B would save 18 minutes in travel time between Calais and Gilead, and an upgraded Corridor C would result in a 21 minute saving on a trip between Calais and Coburn Gore.

4- Lane Limited Access Corridors

Both 4-lane limited access corridors (D & E) would have medians separating opposing lanes of travel, at-grade intersections at the junctions of important major streets and roads (no grade separated interchanges), would provide access to abutting property only at pre-designated locations, and be designed to support travel speeds of 65 mph.

Both Corridors D and E would reduce the time to travel across the State. Corridor D would save approximately 81 minutes in a typical trip from Calais to Coburn Gore, while Corridor E would save 39 minutes in a trip from Calais to Gilead.

Corridor D would be approximately 227 miles in length. Corridor E, which utilizes more of Maine’s Interstate highway, would be approximately 156 miles.

Not all of these corridors would be constructed on new alignment. There will be opportunities along the corridors, where because of little or no significant conflict with adjoining land development, two additional travel lanes can be added to existing 2-lane roadway segments (twinning). In doing this, development rights along the existing right-of-way would be acquired to assure the resulting facility functions as a limited access highway.

The ultimate decision to proceed with the development a new 4-lane limited access highway will be subject to many considerations. The economic and social effect of bypassing communities and potential impacts on the natural and man-made environment are but a few of these considerations. The study has identified a number of potential significant resources of concern along the five conceptual corridors. These resources must be considered for total avoidance. Additionally, there are several unorganized townships along the conceptual corridors fall under the planning jurisdiction of Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) which maintains infrastructure goals and policies intended to protect the natural character of remote areas. These important issues will be addressed through the MDOT transportation decision-making processes required by Maine’s Sensible Transportation Policy Act as well as the National Environmental Policy Act.

Cost

The cost of highway improvements associated with the five alternative corridors varies significantly. The cost to upgrade existing east-west corridors is estimated to range from a low of $151,000,000 (Corridor A) to a high of $208,000,000 (Corridor C). The costs associated with the two limited access corridors studied range from $796,000,000 (Corridor E) to $1,170,000,000 (Corridor D). These costs are generalized costs which include roadway construction, bridge construction, engineering, right of way, and environmental mitigation.



Other Plan Elements

Regardless of which alternative is ultimately selected, there are a number of additional opportunities that should be considered to complement east-west highway improvements. Among these are, corridor management options (right of way preservation, advance acquisition of right of way, and access management) and corridor signage and scenic enhancements. Additionally, there would be opportunities to improve the connections between the east-west highway and Maine’s passenger and freight transportation hubs.

Financing Options

It is understood that the financing required for new east-west highway infrastructure cannot detract from the maintenance and upkeep of Maine’s existing roadways. It is therefore imperative that new sources and opportunities for funding be explored. A number of innovative financing alternatives have been researched. It is apparent from the results of that research that no single financing option can reasonably and practically satisfy the total capital need associated with the extent of improvement contemplated. The ultimate project financing "package" would most likely consist of a variety of finance options.

Because toll revenue is considered to be an integral part of many of the project financing alternatives studied, a separate analysis of the financial feasibility of constructing, operating and maintaining a new east-west toll road corridor through Maine has been completed. The following summarizes the findings of that analysis.

Toll Financing Feasibility

The preliminary assessment of toll feasibility was limited to four of the five conceptual corridors (B, C, D, and E). Corridor A was not included because it generated much less travel compared to the other four. An "open barrier" type of toll collection was recommended. Under this concept, a fixed toll rate is assessed in each direction of travel at mainline plazas spaced at generally equal distances. Plazas were located along the corridors to capture the majority of traffic, but taking into consideration the need to minimize the potential for toll diversion. Passenger car rates of between $0.50 and $1.50 were tested at each plaza. Truck tolls varied from $1.50 to $4.50 per plaza. At the low end, this represents a passenger car per mile rate of up to $0.020 per mile for through trips in each corridor. At the high end, it represents passenger car per mile rates of up to $0.050. These ranges encompass rates assessed on similar toll facilities in the region.

Corridors D and E experienced a significant amount of toll diversion, especially at the higher rates tested. Toll evasion estimates were much lower with Corridors B and C due to the general lack of direct competing alternative routes. Over 70 percent of toll-free traffic remained in Corridors B and C at the highest rate tested, while only about 55 percent remained in Corridors D and E.

At the highest rates tested, Corridor D was estimated to produce the most annual toll revenue ($24.9 million in 2015), with Corridor B producing the second highest ($20.8 million in 2015). By the year 2030, this annual toll revenue is forecast to grow to approximately $34.2 million and $25.3 million, espectively.

The cost to staff, maintain, and operate the proposed toll plazas is estimated to range from $2.5 million per year (Corridor E) to $3.5 million per year (Corridor B).

Net toll revenues were compared to estimated debt service requirements for each corridor assuming both General Obligation Bond and Revenue Bond financing.

Assuming General Obligation bond financing, annual debt service requirements range from $14.5 million per year (Corridor B) to $94.7 million (Corridor D). When Revenue bonds are considered, the range increases from $19.8 million to $127.8 million, respectively.

Only Corridor B proved to be financially feasible beginning in 2015, but only when General Obligation Bond financing was assumed. Toll revenue based on the high end rates were assumed in this analysis since the lower toll rates fell far short of financial feasibility.

The revenue derived from Corridors D and E meets less than a quarter of debt service requirements in 2015, and only about one-third by 2030.

When all maintenance and operations costs are included, Corridor B is estimated to generate about 5.5 percent more net bond proceeds (General Obligation Bonds) than are required by capital costs.

Assuming General Obligation Bonds, the "bonding capacity" associated with Corridors D and E covers only about 20 percent of the estimated construction capital outlay. The vast majority of toll roads in the United States provide a minimum of four travel lanes. While it is technically feasible to convert an existing two-lane road (Corridors B and C) to a toll facility, there are currently no major two-lane toll facilities in the United States. The last major two-lane toll corridor was the West Virginia Turnpike. By 1987, it was converted to a four-lane facility.

The results of the toll feasibility analysis summarized above should be considered preliminary in nature. It was intended to provide a relative indication of financial feasibility of the four corridors compared to one another. The decision to proceed with a capital program to improve Maine’s east-west highways will require a more comprehensive analysis of financing options than is presented here.

Other Funding

The legislation directing this study also required the MDOT to make application for funds provided by the 1998 reauthorization of the federal transportation programs (TEA-21) for the purpose of planning and improving border crossing infrastructure and national trade corridors.

On January 13, 1999, the States of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont filed a joint application for funding improvements along the Route 9 and US Route 2 corridor under two new federal capital programs; the National Corridor Planning & Development Program and the Coordinated Border Infrastructure Program. As a result, Maine received $1 million for federal fiscal year 1999. This funding will be directed to a project to complete the preliminary engineering and environmental studies for a new international border crossing in the Calais, Maine/St. Stephen, New Brunswick, area.

The Department will continue to pursue funding under these two new programs for future east-west corridor improvements.

Linkages to Other States and Provinces

This study was developed with the awareness that highway improvement plans in other states and provinces will have an ultimate effect on state and regional highway system continuity as well as on the volume of traffic flow into and through Maine.

New Hampshire / Vermont - both States plan to continue to upgrade US Route 2 with shoulders and occasional truck passing lanes. Neither State currently has plans to expand the US Route 2 corridor beyond the 2 lanes that presently exist.

Quebec - the Ministry of Transportation has no plans to improve the Sherbrooke to Coburn Gore connection (Route 212). The Ministry, over the next 5 to 20 years, plans to build in phases a limited access 2-lane highway (route 173) between Saint Joseph de Beauce and St. Georges.

New Brunswick - the New Brunswick Ministry of Transportation has plans to improve the Route 1 corridor from St. John to St. Stephen resulting in a 2 to 4-lane limited access highway to Maine’s border in Calais.

Economic Impact Analysis

The purpose of the economic impact analysis was to forecast and compare the likely effects of each of the proposed alternative corridors on the Maine economy. The period of study ranged through the construction and first 15 years of operation of the proposed improvements, concluding in 2030. The scope of the analysis included the following research elements:

1. Trends and forecasts for cross-border trade and commodity movements into and through Maine and Atlantic Canada;

2. Trends and forecasts of economic and population growth within the States, Provinces and US/Canadian urban areas that would be served by improved east-west transportation access through Maine;

3. Analysis and forecasting of the effects of improved highway access on future tourism travel to and through Maine;

4. Analysis of business opinion concerning the need for and likelyresponse to improved east-west transportation within the State;

5. Forecasting of the likely secondary and cumulative economic impacts of the highway’s construction, resulting cost savings and productivity effects on Maine industries, and impacts on tourist visitation to Maine; and



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