CAPE ELIZABETH — The latest climate-change report predicting major disruptions to the environment and the U.S. economy is alarming. But we shouldn’t give up. The choice isn’t climate change or no economic growth. Smart transportation planning offers a way forward on climate change that also benefits the Maine economy and our quality of life and place.

Having worked for over four decades in municipal planning and commercial real estate, I have seen firsthand how public transportation infrastructure supports economic development. I also have seen how planning decisions that omit public transportation infrastructure harm the environment and our community economies.

Our country has spent the last 50 years developing around the interstate highway system, and while that’s given people great flexibility, it has also come at great cost.

The flexibility has led to urban sprawl, sapping our urban and rural town centers of the vitality that comes with a mix of residential and commercial uses. The dependency on cars has undermined healthy living and hurt the environment. Many Mainers spend more than two hours a day in traffic commuting to and from work and school.

As a result, vehicle emissions are the second-largest source of carbon pollution in Maine. Getting people out of their cars is the major way to fight climate change in our state.

But people need transportation choices first. That requires smart public investment in Maine’s public transportation infrastructure, particularly passenger train service. Relying on public bus service alone is not enough.


L.D. 438 is a stand-alone passenger rail bond being considered by the Maine Legislature this year that would fund critical infrastructure to expand passenger train service from Portland to Lewiston-Auburn and beyond.

The $25 million bond proposal would provide $13 million to fund improvements on passenger railroad lines between Portland, Lewiston and Auburn to enable a connection with Montreal; $7 million to invest in the Mountain Division railroad line between Portland, Bethel and the Sebago Lake region; and $5 million to invest in state-owned railways statewide.

This project would increase the safety for shared freight and passenger rail service on this route, while setting the stage for rail service between Portland and Maine’s second-largest metropolitan area, Lewiston-Auburn. It’s an important first step in expanding passenger train service across western Maine to Montreal and north to Waterville and Bangor. The $25 million bond could be leveraged to gain millions of dollars of crucial federal grant funds.

Improving our passenger train infrastructure is one of the bold steps we need to take to make it possible to dramatically reduce carbon emissions within the next decade.

At the same time, the economic benefits to our state from a massive passenger rail project would be significant. One only need see the kind of development and investment that has occurred around metro stations in the nation’s cities and surrounding communities to understand that transit-oriented development can revitalize communities.

Some might say this applies only to big cities, but the same principles apply to smaller communities as well. New public transportation infrastructure linked with local community development decisions contributes to more walkable, more livable and more economically viable communities.


While passenger trains certainly won’t replace cars, the establishment of multi-modal transportation systems creates choices for consumers that will benefit our community economies and the environment. Public transportation infrastructure increases accessibility as well as choice – expanding options for seniors who no longer drive and millennials who choose not to drive. Accessibility and choice are hallmarks of sustainable and better-quality communities.

Proof lies in the Downeaster passenger rail service from Boston to Brunswick. The Amtrak-run service grew to almost 600,000 riders in 2014. Communities along the coast served by the Downeaster have realized millions of dollars in private investment and significant economic benefits.

With the resource of hundreds of miles of Maine-owned railways connected to town centers across the state, this smart public investment offers an opportunity to move Maine forward.

We had a nationwide rail system once, and downtowns across the nation prospered. We were able to move people and freight quickly and cheaply with less environmental harm.

Re-establishing this infrastructure will be less expensive, more efficient and more environmentally friendly in the long term. It’s time to revitalize our communities and lower our negative impact on the environment. It’s time for trains for Maine.

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