PORTLAND – Organized chaos reigns at the Casco Bay Ferry Terminal on a summer weekend.
Labor Day weekend was no exception. On Saturday workers pushed carts laden with houseplants, wine bottles and canvas bags for loading on to the Mailboat as a flock of wedding guests dressed in summer finery lined up for the Peaks Island ferry as it disgorged a parade of pedestrians, bicyclists and automobiles.
“We are used to this,” said Larry Legere, an operations agent who has worked for the Casco Bay Lines for 40 years.
Soon the chaos should become a little more organized thanks to a $3 million terminal expansion and renovation project scheduled to get under way Tuesday at the 56 Commercial St. facility. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the terminal.
The project will double the size of the waiting area to 9,000 square feet and move it closer to the busiest gates, making them visible from the waiting room. New and enlarged restrooms will be moved closer to the ticket counter for better monitoring of their use.
Casco Bay Island Transit District officials say the terminal, built in 1988, is no longer adequate. Now, nearly 1 million people use the ferry service a year, double the number in 1988. The ferry service transports 30,000 vehicles and 5,300 tons of freight annually between Portland and Peaks, Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Cliff, Long and Chebeague islands.
Long lines can clog the waiting area, which is decorated with a funky collection of portraits of some of the islands’ well-known residents, island real estate postings and a community bulletin board. Passengers eager to see their ferry boats arrive gather outside because the boats aren’t visible from the waiting area.
Two years ago transit district officials hired Scott Simons Architects of Portland to create a plan for the terminal. In drawing up the plan the achitect met with captains, deckhands and island residents, and took ferry rides to observe the operations.
Legere said the 1988 terminal was a big improvement over its previous Custom Wharf location and that people will be pleased by the latest renovations.
“It is going to be better, particularly for the customers,” said Legere.
Peaks Island resident Stephanie Eliot, who has been commuting on the ferry for 20 years, said she will appreciate improvements to the restrooms — the women’s room currently has only four stalls. But overall, she said, she has always been impressed by how efficiently the ferry service moves the large numbers of passengers.
“They have streamlined the process,” said Eliot.
Bridget Grady of Portland, who often rides the ferry to Great Diamond Island, said she has never had an issue with the ferry service.
“But the terminal is another matter,” Grady said.
The project, which also includes the replacement and repair of some pilings on the pier, should be complete by May.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: