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News Release for June 1, 2010
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Selects Route for Wiscasset Bypass
After decades of requests from the Town of Wiscasset for a U.S. Route 1 Bypass of Wiscasset Village, and after many years of transportation and environmental studies spearheaded by the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) issued its determination of the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA) on May 24. While this is a crucial step in the approval process for a bypass, MaineDOT officials say that we are a long way from actual construction.
Having the LEDPA means that the location of a future bypass is assured. After reviewing dozens of possible locations, including a tunnel, the LEDPA determination means that of the three of locations still under consideration, the regulatory agencies will only permit the one that is identified in the LEPDA. That location, or route, is known as N8c (or the “long bridge”). In finalizing the Environmental Impact Statement over the next several months, MaineDOT will drop the location options that are not identified in the LEDPA.
The Environmental Impact Statement, which requires approval of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in the form of a Record of Decision (ROD) must be accompanied by a funding plan. The department will meet with FHWA to discuss how this funding plan might be approached in light of the current fiscal environment. At the very least, MaineDOT will need to clearly identify which properties it will need to purchase for the one route that can be permitted, and then work to raise the funds necessary to preserve the corridor. A clear designation of the route will also identify those property owners who will not be affected by the bypass.
Substantial controversy has existed over the years as to whether a bypass was the right solution, compared to other options such as buses, signals, and crossing guards. Others disagreed on which bypass option was the most favorable, due to the nature and extent of impacts that the bypass options might cause. Those impacts include displacing property owners, removing trucks from downtown Wiscasset, and construction effects on natural and cultural resources, including visual impacts associated with crossing the Sheepscot River.
MaineDOT and FHWA worked with many affected stakeholders by establishing the Midcoast Bypass Task Force in 2008, which met for over a year to discuss the controversial issues and their possible resolution. In late 2009, MaineDOT and FHWA submitted their request for a LEDPA determination to the Army Corps. That request identified the longest route (N2a) as its preferred option, based on numerous discussions with the Task Force and on its unanimous agreement not to oppose that location.
The Army Corps chose N8c over N2a because it has fewer natural and cultural resource impacts. While the Corps’ decision does not reflect the preferred option identified by MaineDOT and FHWA, MaineDOT officials say the department can work with that option.
“MaineDOT is committed to continuing its work with all affected parties as it completes the environmental process and seeks the funding to preserve the corridor and eventually build the bypass,” said Kat Beaudoin, Chief of Planning at MaineDOT. “This is the closest we’ve ever come to getting the go-ahead for solving a problem that has affected the economic vitality of this portion of the Midcoast Region for over 40 years. We know not everyone will be happy with the solution, but if we don’t take advantage of this major decision, it will be a lost opportunity.”
MaineDOT plans a public meeting later in June to outline the recent determination and the next steps involved in the decision-making process.
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