By Melissa Dunne
As appeared on page C1

Atlantic Canada and New England are teaming up on a number of projects over the next three years in a bid to boost economic growth in the northeast international trade corridor between Saint John and Bangor, Me.

One Maine bureaucrat hopes these projects will give Eastern Canada-U.S. trade relations a European flavour.

“I would like this area operate more like the European Union, rather than like separate countries,” said David Cole, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation, at a Saint John Board of Trade luncheon on Friday.

Canadian and American politicians, business people, and bureaucrats are getting closer to working as one unit, after agreeing on Friday to pursue new projects aimed at pumping more money into trade in North America’s northeastern corridor.

Ties were strengthened at the luncheon with the official launch of Access Atlantica, the “new brand name” meant to reflect the links between Saint John and Bangor as the gateway to trade between the northeastern United States.

“What is good for Canada, is good for the United States,” said Nancy Thorne, Canadian co-chairwoman of Access Atlantica, standing between a Canadian and American flag.

A soon-to-be-formed Corridor Leadership Council, with members from both sides of the border, will look at plans that would benefit both countries.

The new council will unveil an official three-year business plan in Bangor later this year, based on an 18-month asset-mapping process that was developed by a number of business groups in the region.

According to Candy Guerette, chamber of commerce president for the Bangor region, the council will work on trying to increase allowable truck weights on Maine highways; ensuring upkeep of highways; and promoting tourism in the corridor area.

Access Atlantica has already secured $500 million in transportation and energy infrastructure investments over the next seven years.

The projects include: a new international bridge and border crossing at St. Stephen and Calais; the twinning of New Brunswick Highway 1 from Saint John to St. Stephen; further enhancements to Maine Highway 9 and a planned extension of Highway 395; a second international power transmission line between Saint John and Bangor; the proposed, 145-kilometre Emera Brunswick Pipeline natural gas transmission line to be constructed between Saint John and Baileyville, Me.; and further capacity enhancements to the existing Maritimes and Northeast natural gas pipeline.

The new bridge and border crossing at St. Stephen and Calais is slated to open in 2008. The new bridge is expected to keep traffic moving, and help the town remain the most efficient Atlantic border crossing on the east-west trade route.

Politicians from Canada and the U.S. were scheduled to meet with Premier Shawn Graham after the luncheon to discuss when the twinning of Highway 1 will be completed and to encourage the premier to push for further federal funding for Access Atlantica.

All of these initiatives aim to boost the economic potential of the corridor area, which is home to more than 400,000 people who work in varied sectors including: retail, transportation, tourism, forestry, manufacturing and fishing and aquaculture.

The projects would allow Atlantic Canada and New England to position themselves as the main gateway for trade from Asia, said Neil LeBlanc, Canada’s consul general to New England.

LeBlanc, also hopes to simplify border crossings for tourists.

“We need to get this right the first time, (North American) tourists should be able to use commonly held documents, not just passports,” said LeBlanc at the luncheon.

The consul general suggested after the luncheon that Atlantic Canada and New England should consider using enhanced licences at border crossings.

The secure or enhanced driver’s licence that some Canadian provinces and U.S. states are working on would be scanned and provide encrypted information, using technology such as radio-frequency identification chips, confirming proof of citizenship.

A pilot project for the enhanced licences between British Columbia and Washington state has already been given the green-light, with Ontario looking to develop a similar project by the end of this year.

David Wilkins, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, said Thursday that all Canadians and Americans should get a passport before the end of 2008 to avoid issues crossing the border by land or air.

– with files from Canadian Press