Interstate 92-New England (unbuilt)

Passing through some of the most fascinating scenery in the Eastern United States, the proposed I-92 was to cut travel times and promote economic development throughout Northern New England. (Photo of Vermont's I-91 taken in 2002 by Jim K. Georges.)

AN EAST-WEST HIGHWAY FOR NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND: As early as 1944, the National Interregional Highway Committee included an east-west highway through northern New England as part of a proposed 48,300-mile Interstate highway network. Paralleling the existing US 2 and ME 9, the proposed highway was to begin in Burlington, Vermont, and continue east through Montpelier and St. Johnsbury in Vermont; Littleton and Berlin in New Hampshire; and Augusta, Bangor, and Calais in Maine before ending at the Maine-New Brunswick border at St. Stephen.

The planners of this route sought to break the geographic constraints caused by mountain ranges and river valleys that inhibited economic growth, and thus reduce the dependency of north-south links which had existed since colonial times. The east-west highway also was to provide more direct access to the New York metropolitan area, as well as to the Middle Atlantic and Midwest states. The proposed route failed to meet minimum present and future traffic requirements, and subsequently was dropped from consideration in 1947.

By the dawn of the 1950's, work had progressed on the Maine and New Hampshire turnpikes, which eventually carried the I-95 designation. The passage of the 1956 Federal Highway Act included the proposed routes for I-89, I-91, I-93, but there still was no east-west route connecting these highways between Massachusetts and Quebec.

ANOTHER ATTEMPT AT AN INTERSTATE HIGHWAY DESIGNATION: In 1970, the states of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine collaborated on two new proposed Interstate routes. The routes among a total of approximately 10,000 miles submitted under the guidelines of the 1968 Federal Highway Act, which called for a total of 1,500 new Interstate miles. They were routed as follows:

  • 174.3 miles of new Interstate mileage from Albany, New York east to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This highway would have incorporated the route of the current NH 101 Expressway (Exeter-Hampton Expressway).

  • 388.2 miles of new Interstate mileage from Glens Falls, New York east to Calais, Maine. This amount does not include overlay mileage along I-89 and I-95, which would have been incorporated into the east-west highway.

In 1971, Bartlett Cram, industrial consultant; Hamilton South, a former Marine brigadier general who was Vice President of Albany's National Commercial Bank and Trust Company; and Clifford Barnes, executive vice president of the Rutland (Vermont) Chamber of Commerce, offered their own proposal: a 500-mile-long expressway (with approximately 367 miles of new construction) linking Amsterdam, New York with Calais, Maine. The transportation link was devised as an economic catalyst for the "Appalachia of New England." Like the official state submissions, this group also sought 90 percent Federal financing for the route.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) denied these submissions for the proposed Interstate highway, which often is referred informally as I-92. Meanwhile, work progressed at a breakneck pace on northern New England's Interstate highway network. By 1970, I-89 had neared completion through Vermont and New Hampshire, while work on Vermont's I-91 was completed north to White River Junction, and on New Hampshire's I-93 north to Plymouth.

THREE POSSIBLE ROUTES CONSIDERED: Undeterred by the FHWA's denial, a multi-state coalition devised plans in 1971 for three separate east-west routes. These routes are described as follows:

  • SOUTHERN ROUTE: 452.8 miles from the area of Albany, New York to Calais, Maine. This corridor would have required 181.2 miles of new construction and 225.4 miles of upgrading existing facilities. Approximately 46.2 miles would have utilized already existing Interstate highways (I-393 in New Hampshire, and I-95 and I-295 in Maine). The route, which was estimated to cost $782 million by the time it was completed in 1979, would have gone through Bennington and Battleboro, Vermont; Keene, Concord, and Rochester, New Hampshire; and Sanford, Portland, Bath, Ellsworth, and Calais, Maine.

  • "MODIFIED" CENTRAL ROUTE: 281.6 miles from the area of Glens Falls, New York to Portland, Maine. This corridor would have required 97.1 miles of new construction and 70.2 miles of upgrading existing facilities (a 1968-1971 Interstate-quality upgrade of US 4 near Rutland, Vermont is included in this figure). Approximately 114.2 miles would have utilized already existing Interstate highways (I-89 in Vermont and New Hampshire, and I-393 in New Hampshire). The route, which was estimated to cost $346 million by the time it was completed in 1979, would have gone through Rutland and White River Junction, Vermont; Lebanon and Concord, New Hampshire; and Sanford and Portland, Maine. (An extension of the central route east to Calais, Maine was not considered for this study.)

  • NORTHERN ROUTE: 503.4 miles from the area of Schroon Lake, New York to Calais, Maine. This corridor would have required 218.1 miles of new construction and 152 miles of upgrading existing facilities. Approximately 133.3 miles would have utilized already existing Interstate highways (I-93 in Vermont and New Hampshire, and I-95 in Maine). The route, which was estimated to cost $768 million by the time it was completed in 1979, would have gone through Middlebury, Montpelier and St. Johnsbury, Vermont; Littleton and Berlin, New Hampshire; and Rumford, Skowhegan, Bangor, and Calais, Maine.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONSTRAINTS ALONG I-92: A more complete description of the environmental constraints faced along each route, as described in the "Northern New England East-West Highway Study," follows:


The survey of environmentalists conducted by the Consultant disclosed more support for a southern routing than for any other, with the possible exception of Vermont where there seemed to be a preference of a more central passage. In general, the survey indicated that the environmental problems that would be encountered along a southern corridor could be dealt with satisfactorily by local avoidance of significant natural features, and by special care in design and during construction.

In southern New Hampshire, the corridor between the Vermont line and Maine near Rochester includes a large number of natural features that need protection. However, the area has been classified as one requiring special care, because it appears on the basis of the preliminary survey that local routing adjustments and protective measures will permit construction in the area. Perhaps the most serious potential problem area, which might require rather extensive intra-corridor realignment, is to be found in the Strafford-Rochester watershed on the eastern edge of this corridor in New Hampshire. The area involved is quite large, and the requirements for special construction in crossing it might make a detour more desirable.

In Maine, the southern corridor cuts northeastward across York County to join I-95 (Maine Turnpike) in Portland. This is a difficult area from an environmental point of view, primarily because of the wide distribution of important wildlife habitat. There are also numerous water features, including several water supplies, that pose problems. However, the Consultant believes that if due care is exercised, it should be possible to find an environmentally acceptable path through this area.

From Portland to Bath, the southern corridor would follow an existing road (current I-295). No environmental hazards would be anticipated from such usage.

East of Bath, the southern corridor follows a route more or less parallel to the present US 1 through the coastal portions of Lincoln, Knox, Waldo, Hancock, and Washington counties. The Maine coast is deeply indented with bays and promontories, and cut by numerous rivers and streams. There are extensive wetland and estuarine areas of great biological importance which must be protected from filling or alteration of tidal flow patterns. Similarly, the many river and stream crossings will have to be effected in such a manner as to avoid damage to fisheries resulting from sedimentation or from changes in flow rates. Maine has enacted a coastal wetlands law and has established an Environmental Improvement Commission to review all developments affecting the coastal zone. Therefore, requirements to run alignments that will not adversely impact upon river fisheries may be anticipated along this corridor.


The second corridor analyzed is an alternative that would avoid the hazards of the southern corridor in Vermont and western New Hampshire combining elements of a central and a southern corridor. This corridor would follow existing I-89 from the Bethel, Vermont area to Concord, New Hampshire, and would not be expected to create any new environmental problems where it did so.

The western edge of the corridor could cause difficulties. The corridor would cross the Green Mountains by following existing US 4 through the Sherburne Pass from Rutland. There might be some difficulties near Rutland because the corridor passes through or near the Rutland watershed. East of the Green Mountain National Forest may represent a more serious problem. Several environmentalists suggested that it would be desirable to swing north and eastward from the end of the Sherburne Pass to join I-89, and that this would be preferable to a more direct passage to the east through the Woodstock area. However, such a corridor will have to thread its way through some difficult country bound by the National Forest to the west and by wilderness area to the east. Gifford Woods, cited by the state as one of the ecologically valuable areas in Vermont, might be adversely impacted. While the Consultant believes that a corridor can be found through this area, it is clearly an area of environmental danger that will require in-depth study before any final determination can be made.

As noted above, from the Bethel area to Concord, this corridor would follow existing I-89. From Concord to the Portland area, it would follow the southern corridor discussed earlier. The problems mentioned there would be the same for this particular variant.

Assuming that a link between the Rutland and Bethel areas is feasible, this combination of a central and southern corridor would create fewer environmental problems than the southern corridor, and therefore might be preferred on environmental grounds.


From an environmental point of view, the third corridor under consideration would be least attractive. This northern corridor requires passage through danger areas in both Vermont and New Hampshire.

The corridor would require bridging Lake Champlain in the Crown Point-Chimney Point area. Crown Point on the New York side is a historical site and park that might be adversely affected by a development highway, while on the Vermont side the corridor might endanger the ecologically fragile Whitney Creek Marsh and the DAR State Park. Further to the east, the corridor passes through the Dead Creek-Otter Creek area which includes extensive tracts of biologically valuable marshland. Also, this flood plain region is basically unsuited to development. The corridor crosses the Green Mountains in the Huntington-Lincoln-Appalachian Gap area, much of which has been reserved as a natural preserve and is being maintained as essentially wilderness quality territory. The gaps are constricted, and construction of a major highway facility through any of them might cause severe environmental damage. Also, Vermont's Act 250 restricting construction at higher elevations might provide a legal basis for barring a major road through the area. If this should be the case, it would be necessary to detour by taking a northerly route to Burlington and cutting through the mountains via the existing I-89, which follows the Winooski Valley from Burlington eastward to Montpelier. From Montpelier to St. Johnsbury, the Consultant believes that there would be no environmental problems that could not be reduced to an acceptable level by local avoidance and special care in construction.

In New Hampshire, the northern corridor again runs into serious environmental difficulties. In the Whitefield-Meadows vicinity, the corridor would include such areas of significance as wetland, water supply, and wildlife habitat. The Pondicherry Wildlife Preserve is an important private reservation. The area is of high scenic quality and is ecologically vulnerable. Topographical constraints restrict choice of route alignments and would make it extremely difficult to find a satisfactory passage through this part of northern New Hampshire. To the east, in the Jefferson-Randolph-Gorham area, the choice for direct passage through the White Mountains is essentially restricted to the existing US 2, which passes through a narrow gap in the mountains. This area is considered unsuitable for development by environmentalists because of the narrowness of the passageway and the multitude of natural features of significance that would be unfavorably impacted. A more northerly, and therefore less direct, route around the mountains via the Upper Amonoosuc River Valley might lessen or eliminate many of these potential dangers.

Based on the studies accomplished thus far, it would appear that there will be no serious environmental problems encountered along the contemplated northern corridor in the state of Maine. From the New Hampshire line to I-95 near Pittsfield, there are a number of population centers to be bypassed. The area is also rich in water features and wildlife habitat. There are several public water supplies to be avoided. However, it should be possible, with care, to thread a route through this general corridor without causing extensive environmental damage. From Pittsfield to Bangor, the route would rely on existing I-95. East of Bangor, the corridor would require a new or upgraded facility running southeasterly to the coast near Ellsworth. There are a number of important water features, including several water supplies, within this corridor that must be avoided. From Ellsworth to Calais, the route would follow a coastal route as described above in the discussion of the southern corridor, and the constraints mentioned there again would be encountered. From an environmental point of view, the modified northern corridor might offer advantages over the route discussed.

These rock cuts west of Rutland, Vermont hint at an unbuilt grade-separated interchange at EXIT 1 (VT 4A) for US 4. This controlled-access portion of US 4 was considered as a possible routing for I-92. (Photo by Steve Alpert.)

ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF I-92: A cost-benefit analysis of each route follows. All costs and benefits are based on 1971 estimates.

MAINE OFFICIALS RESURRECT PLANS: More than a quarter century after I-92 was cancelled, officials in Maine and Canada devised plans for an east-west highway connecting the Maritime Provinces with Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto. The 1999 "East-West Highway Study" developed by the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) proposed five corridors -- three on existing alignment and two on new alignment -- all of which would be paid 80 percent by the Federal government:

  • CORRIDOR A (TRANS-MAINE TRAIL): Beginning at the Maine-New Brunswick border in Vanceboro, proceeding westerly via ME 6 through Lincoln, Milo, Dover-Foxcroft, and Guilford to Abbot, then westerly via ME 16 to Bingham. The trail then proceeds northerly along US 201 to Jackman and Sandy Bay at the Maine-Quebec border. The cost of this route, which would consist mostly of two-lane roadways, was estimated to cost $152 million in 1999 dollars.

  • CORRIDOR B (EAST-WEST HIGHWAY): Beginning at the Maine-New Brunswick border, proceeding westward along ME 9 to ME 46 in East Eddington. The corridor would continue southerly along ME 46 to US 1A in East Holden, then westerly along US 1A to I-395 in Brewer, connecting with I-95 at or near Bangor. It then would continue southwesterly along existing I-95, leaving I-95 in Newport. From this point, it would continue westerly along US 2 to the Maine-New Hampshire border at Gilead. The cost of this route, which would consist mostly of two-lane roadways and some overlap of existing four-lane routes, was estimated to cost $165 million in 1999 dollars.

  • CORRIDOR C (EAST-WEST HIGHWAY ALTERNATE): Same route as corridor B from the Maine-New Brunswick border to I-95 in Newport. From this point, it would continue westerly along US 2 to ME 27 in Farmington. It then would continue northwesterly along ME 27 to the Maine-Quebec border at Coburn Gore, linking Sherbrooke and Montreal via an extended A-10. The cost of this route, which would consist mostly of two-lane roadways and some overlap of existing four-lane routes, was estimated to cost $208 million in 1999 dollars.

  • CORRIDOR D (NEW FREEWAY ALIGNMENT, CALAIS TO COBURN GORE): This route which would be built predominately on new alignment, would begin 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 1 and TC 2. The corridor then would proceed westward along or south of ME 9, connect with I-95 at or near Bangor, continue southwesterly along existing I-95, and leave I-95 anywhere between Newport and Augusta. From this point, it would continue northwesterly to the Maine-Quebec border at or near Coburn Gore, linking Sherbrooke and Montreal via an extended A-10. The cost of this route, which would consist entirely of new four-lane, controlled-access highway (with some overlap of existing highways), was estimated to cost $1.17 billion in 1999 dollars.

  • CORRIDOR E (NEW FREEWAY ALIGNMENT, CALAIS TO GILEAD): This controlled-access four-lane highway would follow corridor E from the Calais-Baileyville area west to I-95 in Bangor. The route would leave I-95 near Augusta, and continue northwest to the US 2 corridor crossing into New Hampshire at or near Gilead. The cost of this route, which would consist entirely of new four-lane, controlled-access highway (with some overlap of existing highways), was estimated to cost $796 million in 1999 dollars.

The study came to the following conclusions:

  • The much higher costs of new four-lane highways do not appear justified by their somewhat higher economic impacts.

  • Continued exploration of the upgrade alternatives appears to be justified. Corridor B generates the highest positive economic impact for the investment made.

  • The overall economic impacts of an east-west highway are not confined to northern Maine and benefit the entire state.

  • Non-transportation influences on U.S-Canada trade introduce additional "risk" to the impact forecasts. Risks that impacts will be lower than projected, exceed the risks that forecast results are under-estimated.

  • I-89 and I-91 may have helped northern New Hampshire and Vermont during the past three decades, but neither highway has dramatically altered the underlying economic structure of the corridor communities.

  • The limited ability of those corridors to stimulate Canadian investment from Montreal suggests that the Maine east-west highway would face similar challenges in the future.

  • An east-west corridor improvement should aid regional efforts to recruit business investment and diversify the economies of central and northern Maine, but will not necessarily guarantee success. The experience of the I-89 and I-91 corridors indicate that incremental gains following the construction of an east-west highway would be modest.

More recent efforts by MaineDOT have focused on extending the existing I-395 from its current terminus at EXIT 6 (US 1A) in Brewer to ME 9 in East Eddington. Two alternatives are being considered that would extend I-395 for approximately 10.6 miles to ME 9. The extended route would provide an alternative to existing US 1A and ME 46, particularly for truck traffic bound for the Maritime Provinces.

SOURCES: "A Road to Riches," Time (1/12/1971); "Northern New England East-West Highway Study," Development Economics Group (1971); "A Summary of the Findings of Studies Regarding a Maine East-West Highway," Maine Department of Transportation and Maine State Planning Office (1999); "Connector Road Study Process Focus of Hearing" by Dawn Gagnon, Bangor Daily News (4/12/2001); "Comments Due on I-395 Route" by Nok-Noi Hauger, Bangor Daily News (9/13/2004).

  • I-92 shield by Ralph Herman.


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