Residents called for more rail service in Greater Portland after a presentation Tuesday night on reducing traffic congestion in the city’s suburbs.

The hearing at Westbrook High School was the last in a series of public meetings on the Gorham East-West Corridor Feasibility Study, conducted during the past two years by the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Maine Department of Transportation.

The study examined traffic problems in Gorham, Scarborough, South Portland and Westbrook and concluded that creating centers of growth in those communities, expanding public transit and improving roads are all essential to managing traffic in the southern and western suburbs.

People at Tuesday’s meeting said they had hoped to see a plan with more emphasis on creating commuter and passenger rail service.

Tony Donovan, president of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, said he suspected that the study would focus on road improvements and not give enough consideration to rebuilding rail service.

“I don’t want to say we knew the outcome of this before you started, but it’s like we did,” he said.

John Pressey, a Gorham town councilor who’s in a master’s degree program in public administration, listed numerous advantages of rail service, including fewer traffic fatalities, lower transportation costs for residents and, in turn, increased spending at local businesses.

Paul Godfrey, an engineer from HTNB Corp. who was hired to manage the study, said a viable rail system would require more centralized areas where people work.

That’s why the report calls for each of the communities to identify areas to concentrate growth and then offer incentives to develop there, he said. “If we do that, then we have an opportunity for success.”

The report does recommend increasing transit options, including rail service, said Carol Morris, the study’s public outreach director.

It maps out a commuter line from Portland to the Biddeford-Saco area and a passenger line from Portland to Fryeburg. Even with those additions, she said, the study showed that road improvements would be necessary.

The route from the turnpike in Scarborough to Gorham village was identified as the most congested area, Godfrey said. The study offers two solutions to managing traffic there. One is to add an exit connecting the turnpike to Route 114, widening that road and creating a bypass around its intersection with Route 22. The other is to build a turnpike spur that starts around Exit 44 and runs directly to the Gorham Bypass.

Figuring out which option makes more sense would be one of the many decisions in the second phase of the study, which would take the recommendations in the report and create a specific plan, Godfrey said.

Comments on the recommendations can be made online at www.gorhamcorridor.com through April 15. Godfrey said the report will be finalized by April 30. For the process to move forward after that, the communities will have to endorse the recommendations and agree to continue participating in the study.

Also at Tuesday’s hearing, Westbrook City Councilor Paul Emery said developer Jason Snyder had offered the use of his property in the Stroudwater area for a road to connect routes 22 and 25.

Emery didn’t have details of the proposal, and Snyder couldn’t be reached Tuesday night. Godfrey said the proposal was too vague for him to say whether it would help with the problems identified in the study. 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:
[email protected]