Sunday, October 18, 2009

Comments to the State Rail Plan Sept. 29, 2009

The Maine Rail Transit Coalition is an assembly of individuals and interest groups whose goal is to increase transit options and mobility by mobilizing citizens to press for sensible public policy to define and implement the appropriate role of commuter rail throughout the Northeast.

My name is Anthony Donovan. I am a planner, transportation specialist, certified economic developer with a Masters Degree in Public Policy and certificate of Urban Planning from the University Of Maine Muskie School Of Public Service. I currently practice my profession as a commercial Realtor © specializing in site location of development on railways – specifically focused on Transit Oriented Development land use. The Maine Rail Transit Coalition exists primarily due to my dogged pursuit of good rail planning for Maine.
· In 2008 I partnered with the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club to sponsor forums around the state to educate and inform residents and policy-makers on railway transportation corridors.
· During the last State legislative session I led the successful effort to pass a bill, LD 2019 that created a mechanism for funding capital and operating investment in rail.
· I have been involved in PACTS, advocating for rail over the best part of the last decade, I have attended years of meetings on the Portland North studies, the Brunswick extension, the State rail Plan, the Mt. Division and the Calais branch. I have contacts throughout the State who are advocates for railway corridor restoration.
· I represented the Maine Street Station Transit Oriented Development in Brunswick, and consulted with property owners of railway sites in NH, NY and Florida, and of course in other Maine locations.
· I currently represent the owner of Thompson’s Point, the 30-acres adjacent to the Portland Transportation Center. My firm has developed a proposal to redevelop this site for mixed used, transit-oriented development, leveraging local state and federal resources with private development interests. And, yes I may personally benefit from this site becoming a Transit Oriented Development. However, the concept is based on a the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority study projecting billions of dollars in benefits from proper development of station sites along the Downeaster railway corridor (Center for Neighborhood Technology, 2008).

Together with more than 20 years of involvement in the study of Maine’s railways, and from the rail forums we conducted over the past year, it is my professional opinion that;
1.) The Maine State Rail Plan must determine commuter rail markets radiating out along all of the existing rail corridors.
2.) There is a need to educate the populace on the locations, routes, sites along the routes and the cost & benefits of railway corridors.
3.) Once people learn about the resources a railway transportation corridor has to offer – right in our own backyards – they are very interested in how we might use these resources better.

The State Rail Plan needs to lead to better policy procedures in regards to decisions impacting the long-term viability of railway corridors including:
a) Rails with Trails, how they are engineered, and whether the economic benefit of recreational use of these corridors is in the best interest of the public.
Specific to Portland, there are railway transportation corridors that serve southern Maine and the Portland metro region which are owned in most part by the State of Maine. The Downeaster operates on the PanAm –owned Mainline, which can be compared to the Interstate Highway system. This major arterial can be fed by local railway “arterials”; the Mountain Division, the SLR, the Rockland Branch, the Augusta Lower Roads and connections to Lewiston/Auburn and Pineland. These corridors provide an opportunity to transform how we live, how we travel, how we create jobs, how we do land-use, and our methods of addressing congestion and environmental protection.

This rail plan should recognize that the Mountain Division and St. Lawrence & Atlantic railway corridors must first of all be preserved against obstacles that prevent the corridors from being used to their highest and best potential.
- We need a state policy on Rails with Trails and cost-benefit analysis of their impacts on rail.

- Roadway reconstruction projects that impact railway corridors must analyze the long-term impact of those decisions on freight and passenger use of the railway corridors.

- State, local and county plans for land-uses of railway sites should carefully consider the potential economic impacts.

Our coalition wants the State of Maine Rail Plan to address rail as a method of getting us where we need to go. We believe that the potential exists for using the Mt. Division Railway Corridor at least as far as Standish for commuter rail. We also believe that the SLR railway corridor could be used for commuter rail service to at least Yarmouth, and possibly serving Auburn and Augusta.

· A regional planning effort should be conducted as soon as possible (NOW) to provide a realistic assessment of the benefits, costs and potential of these railway corridors.
· A public visioning should take place, including a program of educating residents, policy-makers and property owners on these railway resources.
· We are advocating for a determination of ridership, commuter and land use patterns in areas currently adjacent to these railway corridors.
· We are advocating for an analysis of the various revenue sources for funding rail transit that are currently used around the country and the impacts of funding for rail operations and capital improvements through a tax on the consumption of gasoline and through a collection of tolls on the Maine Turnpike.

“Think of this as simply changing your perspective, accepting that the world is not precisely as you imagine. Historically every major breakthrough began with a simple idea that threatened to overturn all our beliefs. The simplest statement “the earth is round”, was mocked as utterly impossible because most people believed the oceans would flow off the planet. Small minds have always lashed out at what they don’t understand. There are those who create … and those who tear down. That dynamic has existed for all time. But eventually the creators find believers, and the numbers of believers reaches a critical mass, and suddenly the world becomes round… Perception is transformed, and a new reality is born.” (Brown, 2009)

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