Governor, transportation agency suspend Gateway 1 effort
Augusta — Don White, of Camden, said Tuesday afternoon, March 1, that the Maine Department of Transportation's Gateway 1 program had been suspended.
White is chairman of the Gateway 1 Implementation Steering Committee.
On March 1, White and the other municipal representatives on the committee received a letter from DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt telling them the decision to suspend the Gateway 1 planning process was effective immediately.
"Having been briefed by Maine DOT staff about the Gateway 1 planning process, the commitments contained in the Interlocal Agreement, and the process by which municipalities would approve or reject moving forward with forming a corridor coalition, I discussed this information with the Governor and senior staff in the administration," Bernhardt wrote. "We have come to the conclusion that while Gateway 1 has been a very worthy effort, it does not correspond with the immediate priorities of this administration."
Bernhardt said: "I recognize that this decision may have impacts on long-term planning efforts in the Route 1 corridor. However, given the significant and growing fiscal constraints under which we are operating, our top priority must be to focus our time and scarce resources on existing short-term critical infrastructure needs — roads and bridges primarily — to the greatest extent possible."
Bernhardt referred in his letter to the DOT the Corridor Action Plan created by the Gateway 1 Steering Committee in 2009 to guide planning on the Route 1 corridor in the Midcoast.
Former State Planning Office Director Evan Richert has been a consultant to the Gateway 1 Steering Committee. What follows is a letter he sent, March 1, to members of that group.
I will be writing more about my thoughts later, but for now I do not believe the new commissioner of MaineDOT has followed the procedure called for in the Start-Up Agreement signed by MaineDOT, SPO, and each of your communities. I believe the Start-Up Agreement requires a party who wishes to terminate its involvement must provide 30 days written notice to all other parties.
This is both important procedurally and a matter of respect. The commissioner should not be asking each of you to deliver the news to the municipal officers of your town or city; rather, I think the agreement requires him to do so. And MaineDOT's participation does not terminate immediately; it does so in 30 days after written notice is given. This kind of timeframe is provided to allow at least a brief adjustment period and perhaps even a chance for other parties to talk with the one that is choosing to end the relationship.
I know this will not change the outcome, but in my view the commissioner, acting on behalf of the governor apparently, has subjected you and your communities to the indignity of abandoning the agreement that was supposed to go through June; has deprived each of your communities the choice of putting the Interlocal Agreement to a vote; and has done so unilaterally rather than as the partner everybody assumed MaineDOT had committed itself to be. At the very least, the commissioner should follow the proper protocol, as a matter of respect if nothing else.
Gateway 1, initiated by the DOT six years ago, has been defined as a collaborative effort among 20 towns that lie along Route 1 between Brunswick and Stockton Springs. The goal of Gateway 1 is to plan regionally for land use and transportation and maintain the highway's role as a regional arterial and economic lifeline while enhancing the quality of life. It was the project's objective to weave the 20 communities into a Gateway 1 Corridor Coalition.
Some of the proposed initiatives give the coalition authority to prioritize transportation improvements as proposed by the DOT, which owns the highway, as well as increase the funding pipeline for new sidewalks and street trees, or extend public sewer and water.
Communities were invited to collaborate to address a series of escalating problems that stemmed from a combination of increasing traffic levels and existing land use trends.
From this, the Gateway 1 Corridor Action Plan was developed.
The plan asked municipalities "to make adjustments to their comprehensive plans to support more densely built core growth areas, protection for specific view sheds and wildlife habitats, and a more defined level of roadway access management," the DOT site said.
"The plug got pulled," White said Tuesday afternoon. He said details were still being discussed, but communities, such as Camden, that had already received and spent Gateway 1 start-up grants, were among the fortunate.
Camden used those funds for an economic forecast and action plan created for the town by Development Concepts, and designed to address issues of economic growth. That plan presented to residents at a meeting Jan. 10.
White said he was not sure how the suspension would affect Rockport, Lincolnville and other towns that were still in the planning process or had not yet received or used Gateway 1 funds.
"Camden's plan will be a model to other communities," White said, on Tuesday.
In a letter to other members of the Implementation Steering Committee that he wrote on March 1, White said: "While the official Gateway 1 program has been suspended, it is my hope that individual members will see the worth of continuing the principles of the Gateway program in their communities."
Richard Remsen, Rockport's representative on the Implemention Steering Committee, said that town was in a unique position because its comprehensive plan, which he said was approved by approximately 80 percent of Rockport voters many years ago, already had many of the same measures that are part of the Gateway 1 program.
"Rockport has already passed zoning measures that deal with access management, a significant issue for Gateway 1," Remsen said. He said the Ordinance Review Committee would continue to refer to the Gateway 1 plan as other related issues came before them.
"The state is trying to deal with their deficit and this project is one of many that are probably going to be suspended," said Remsen.
He said Rockport had yet not received its $29,500 share of a Gateway 1 start-up grant. The town has sent out a request for qualifications for a sewer study and Remsen said he had already written to DOT to see if those funds had been set aside for that purpose.
"It's going to take this week for the pieces to settle," said Remsen.
White said an informal wrap-up meeting and a discussion on continuing the program will be held in the near future.
"Gateway 1 will live on; its principles are the solution to the sensible future of land-use and transportation along Route 1 between Brunswick and Stockton Springs." White said.
The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.