Plans move forward for Lewiston/Auburn to Portland commuter service

7:45 PM, Jan 10, 2013   |    comments
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AUBURN, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Without a car, commuting between Lewiston/Auburn and Portland can cost about $40 for a roundtrip Greyhound bus.

City officials in both regions want to see a cheaper commuter service connect the Twin Cities to Portland.

A resolution to endorse the idea passed unanimously at a Portland City Council meeting this week.

In Auburn, where there has been long-time support for the idea, city councilors take up a similar resolution in a January 22 meeting.

It's seen as a win-win for both regions, connecting Lewiston/Auburn residents to more job opportunities, and connecting Portland residents to cheaper housing options.

"The Portland region is doing a phenomenal job...and their unemployment rate is several points lower than ours," said Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte.

"Why not help our unemployed or under-employed get access to those jobs?"

Portland City Councilor David Marshall, who chairs the Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee, said the commuter service follows the trend toward public transportation in Portland.

Marshall said over the last six years, vehicle registration in Portland has gone down 20 percent.

"I think it's just as important to grow our cities around our centers and provide means for our people to get to where they need to go," said Marshall.

While the concept of a commuter service has been met with support, there is not a clear consensus when it comes to the mode of transportation.

Some have advocated for a rail system, while others support a bus service.

Officially, Portland City Councilors have remained neutral, but Marshall said he'd like to see a rail service explored.

"We've proven that a rail can be very successful in Maine, and really go beyond what the ridership projections are," said Marshall.

He said a rail service might be more costly upfront, it would be the beter long-term plan.

Auburn Mayor LaBonte, however, believes the bus line would be the better immediate option.

"I have a feeling the most cost-effective project out of the gate would be a bus," he said.

"I want rail long-term, [but] I'm not sure we have the customer base or the population density to justify it."

The City of Auburn has brought on nonprofit Grow L+A to create renderings of a transportation center to accomodate a bus service.

The 1,000 square foot building on Spring Street would sit just behind the Auburn Hannaford. 

Peter Flanders, spokesman for Grow L+A, said a commuter service between the two regions should go through Lewiston/Auburn's downtown.

"Take it outside your community and just by definition...it doesn't work," said Flanders. "It limits the number of people that can use it, and it certainly limits the number of people that will use it."

NEWS CENTER

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