Re: “Report lists ideas to ease congestion on I-295” (June 27, Page A1):

The Maine Department of Transportation’s plans to reduce congestion on Interstate 295 between Scarborough and Brunswick include pull-off lanes, message boards, longer approach ramps, added lanes through Portland and more.

All options are “on the table,” says the head of Portland’s Public Works Department, but any more traffic lanes along I-295 would be folly, since local streets couldn’t absorb the additional traffic they would bring. Much of the corridor’s traffic is commuters to Portland. So why focus on I-295 instead of better commuter transportation?

The old Grand Trunk rail line crosses the Pan Am Railway line at Yarmouth Junction. In combination, these two lines parallel I-295. Frequent commuter rail service (preferably light rail) along this existing corridor – with parking at stations – could substantially reduce I-295 congestion. The same could be said for commuter rail between Portland and Biddeford (or even Wells).

From Portland to Yarmouth, the GT tracks are owned by the state of Maine. With the fire-damaged bridge across Back Cove rehabilitated, trains could again reach downtown Portland via the state-owned right of way now used by the Maine Narrow Gauge Railway. Furthermore, tracks could eventually be (re)laid along Commercial Street, connecting to existing Pan Am tracks at its south end, allowing rail service to circle the Portland peninsula – mostly over existing tracks.

Opportunities exist to eventually extend service – over existing state-owned tracks – to Lewiston-Auburn, Rockland, Augusta, Waterville and westward over the old Mountain Division to Westbrook, Windham, Bridgton, Fryeburg and beyond – relieving traffic congestion along U.S. 302.

Why even think of beefing up a crowded highway when parallel rail lines already exist – and are far less costly to maintain than roads? Opening rail corridors could also reduce the number of heavy trucks that now clog roads and damage pavements. Besides, railways are easy to electrify – a huge plus from an environmental standpoint.

Paul Kando

Damariscotta


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