MACHIAS — Responding to a request from a Down East citizens group, the Maine Department of Transportation has agreed to a pilot project identifying a stretch of Route 1 between Ellsworth and Danforth as a tourist destination.
The designation of the Ellsworth to Danforth route as Downeast Coastal Route 1 could go a long way to attract tourists to the area, according to members of the Downeast Route One Corridor Committee. The group includes representatives of 40 Washington and Hancock county towns on or near Route 1. They have been lobbying the DOT for almost two years to add Downeast to I-95 signs for the Ellsworth to Danforth section of Route 1.
State Traffic Engineer Bruce Ibarguen said his department has asked members of the corridor committee to participate in a pilot project to develop signs that will guide motorists to recognized regions of the state. If the Maine Publicity Bureau and the Maine Office of Tourism agree, Ibarguen said DOT could include the Downeast designation on signs for U.S Route 1 from Ellsworth to Danforth as early as this summer.
Although the corridor committee is seeking the Downeast designation as an attraction for tourists, Ibarguen said his department cannot use road signs to promote one region over another. What DOT signs can do is tell people how to get to a specific region, he said. If state tourism officials agree that Ellsworth and Danforth are in the Downeast region, the DOT can have signs reflect that, Ibarguen said.
Dan Lewis of the Maine Office of Tourism said the latest Maine Publicity Bureau maps identify the Down East area as beginning at Acadia National Park and continuing through Washington County to the Canadian border. That designation is new. Before Washington and Hancock county tourism promotion groups formed the Downeast Area Regional Tourism Committee, only Hancock County was labelled the Downeast Acadia region by the Maine Office of Tourism. Washington County was the Sunrise Region, Lewis said.
The question of where the Down East region begins and ends is important to the committee’s attempt to bring Canadian-bound tourists down Route 1 from Ellsworth to Danforth. That is a tall order at present because a sign on I-95 in Bangor currently identifies a 54-mile difference between Routes 9 and Routes 1 to Calais. Bangor to Calais is 81 miles on Route 9 and 112 miles via Route 1A and Coastal Route 1, according to the sign.
The corridor committee has pressed the DOT for years to add “coastal,” “scenic” and “Downeast” to the Bangor , Brewer and Ellsworth signs for Route 1. Last year, DOT began adding “coastal” to new signs for Route 1.
Ibarguen said he chose the Downeast Route One Corridor Committee to participate in the pilot project because it has progressed further than any other state group at developing a regional consensus as a tourist designation.
The first meeting of the group that will participate in the pilot project will take place in February, Ibarguen said.