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.
Fate of the project now rests with the Senate, which is expected to vote whether to override the veto Thursday.
The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, is aimed at alleviating heavy commuter traffic in the routes 114 and 22 corridor, impacting Gorham, Scarborough, South Portland and Westbrook.
“Today’s vote in the House indicates that this project is important not only to local and regional communities, but also for the entire state’s economy,” said McLean Wednesday after the House override. McLean 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. If the Senate sustains LePage’s veto, the bill will die.
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 in both bodies,” 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 members of the 128th Legislature.
LePage supports the construction of such a project by the Maine Department of Transportation and financed through a bond process, 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.
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.
Bryant was involved with the idea for a spur from its inception. “Our thought was it was going to be expensive,” Bryant 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,” Volk said.
The Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Turnpike Authority a few years ago with the four communities studied traffic congestion in the area. Study results indicated that land use changes and transit expansion should be implemented in conjunction with adding more highway capacity by either 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.
McLean is the House chair of the Transportation Committee.
Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or email@example.com