Much of the discussion on rail transit in Maine is of course about the Downeaster Amtrak passenger rail service to Boston. How do we pay for it? How do we connect to the Rockland Branch in Brunswick? For those familiar with the issues, what route do we take? The PanAm mainline? Or can we take the Maine-owned St. Lawrence & Atlantic RR (SLR)?
Well, the state is conducting a study (one of a few) funded by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) under a program called New Starts http://www.gobrt.org/FTASmallStarts.pdf which is considering alternative transportation methods for alleviating the traffic on roads leading into Portland from the North http://www.maine.gov/mdot/portlandnorth/projectinfo.htm
The interesting aspect of this study is that according to the original timeline, it was supposed to have been completed in 18 months - from Oct. 2007. Obviously it was not a priority. But after some gentle prodding (from yours truly) the State got the study back on track (pun) and last February 2009 there were 2 meetings with the Boston consulting team http://www.aecom.com/About/36/89/index.html that was hired to conduct the $900K+ study (80 feds/20ME). One took place in Auburn and one in Portland. Great meetings, great company to work with and very good feedback from those in attendance.
Since the Feb. meetings however, not much else. The website was update in early March and there have been no public notices of meetings.....
Is this important? Well, the SLR offers great opportunity for a rail transit service between the Portland waterfront/financial district, to the suburbs of Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth and - from Yarmouth Junction we could go to Boston ( on Amtrak mainline route) Rockland, via Freeport and Brunswick, and even better we could go to Auburn, Bethel, western Maine ski areas and onto Montreal Canada. Walking distance from the financial center of the largest city in Maine.
So let's ask MDOT for an update. And here it is for your reading pleasure and hopefully blogging comments.
as follows: (My inquiry, followed by MDOT response)
From: Tony Donovan [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 3:03 PM
To: Moreau, Susan
Cc: Tony @ Home OfficeSubject:
RE: Portland North Study
I have not heard back from you with an update on the Portland North Small Starts Study. I was thinking it was due to my sending the request from my home PC. So I am trying again from my office.
Are any public hearings scheduled for this study? The last one was in Feb. and there were 2, one in Portland, one in Auburn. We spoke at the time about a need to have both groups meet together. In addition, town planners from Portland and Auburn were not present at either meeting, an over sight on their part I am sure.
Plus there has been no new information on the website. Which leads me to believe that the study which was supposed to be completed in 18 months from Oct. 2007, may be delayed once again. I believe that the railway corridor that is between Portland and Auburn could benefit from some of the activity-surrounding rail right now.
Perhaps I should get in touch directly with the consultant? I could write down my thoughts if that would be of any assistance.
I look forward to your reply
From: "Moreau, Susan"
Date: Wed, 22 Jul 2009 16:12:38 -0400
To: Tony Donovan
Subject: Portland North Study
RE: Request to Meet regarding Thompson's Point
Possibly from a stakeholder observation, the study may appear that it is not progressing. However, the team has met over the past three months with Pan Am and the St Lawrence & Atlantic railroad; as well as, individual meetings with city planners, economic development directors, selectmen & councilors from the City of Portland, Lewiston, Auburn, Brunswick, Freeport, Yarmouth, Falmouth and Cumberland. (We are currently setting up meetings in Gray, New Gloucester and Pineland)
Our objective at these meetings was to brief the community leaders on the project and discuss potential station locations/route, service barriers & objectives, and updates on economic development within each of those communities/cities. These meetings were also were focused on individual community needs and concerns relating to commuter rail or BRT.
Except for the recent meetings that I indicated, all meetings have been open to the public. At the upcoming public meeting in either August or September, we will offer the three (from the six original) route alternatives that were selected for further study. Ultimately, one route will be selected for the New Starts application to FTA.
Regarding the scope & timeline, the Department is satisfied with the work that has been accomplished and the pace of the study. Please feel free to contact Jay Duncan with questions on the study.