A Brunswick Explorer bus. Town officials are working with the DOT to look at surrounding public transportation and possibly redesign the route to add more stops, particularly to Brunswick Landing. Photo courtesy of the Brunswick Explorer

BRUNSWICK — Town officials are working with the Maine Department of Transportation to launch a nearly $100,000 transportation study that could add more bus stops at Brunswick Landing as the former Navy base continues to grow. 

“With the explosion of development and the addition of nearly 100 asylum seekers living on the landing, the public outcry for public transportation to various locations on (the) landing and throughout town is overwhelming,” assistant manager Ryan Leighton wrote in a letter to the town council. Officials hope the study will help them expand and rework the Brunswick Explorer service, which last year saw 22,122 riders — a 1,200 rider drop from 2018.

The study will examine all public transportation in the area, including the in-town Brunswick Explorer bus service, run by Western Maine Transportation; the Metro BREEZ, which provides service to and from Brunswick to Portland with stops in Freeport and Yarmouth; Concord Coach Lines, which stops at the Brunswick Visitor Center as part of its Midcoast route; the Amtrak Downeaster, which provides five trains to and from Brunswick seven days per week, and the Bath City Bus, which serves areas north and south of Route 1. 

Despite this dearth of transportation services in the area, people living and working around Brunswick Landing (the former Brunswick Naval Air Station) have complained that these services are insufficient, unreliable and not well-liked with one another. 

Officials hope the transit study will uncover improvements and system design changes to help resolve some of these problems and ultimately provide more stops. 

The town council authorized the $98,180 transit study during Tuesday night’s town council meeting. The town will have to cover about $20,000 of that, and will pay for it with transportation TIF funding. The remaining $80,000 will be paid for by a Maine Department of Transportation funding grant. 

Growth at Brunswick Landing

Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority oversees the redevelopment of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, which was decommissioned in 2011, taking thousands of jobs out of Brunswick. Redevelopment efforts have turned the base, now Brunswick Landing, into a hub for more than 135 businesses and employing over 2,000 people, a number Executive Director Steve Levesque said he expects to double in the next five years. 

A planned Martin’s Point Health Care facility will bolster the employment numbers even further, adding roughly 150 employees, making it one of the largest employers at the landing, surpassed only by Wayfair, which has about 500 employees, despite a layoff of about 55 workers last week. 

It’s not just workers at the landing, either. Brunswick Landing Ventures, a housing development, owns over 500 single-family homes, duplexes, quadruplexes and townhouses at the former base. There are plans for at least 100 more units in the future. 

Despite this growth, the Brunswick Explorer only extended service to Brunswick Landing in July. There are stops at Southern Maine Community College’s Orion Hall and at the intersection of Burbank Avenue and Orion Street, near Savilinx and Wayfair. The bus makes three stops in the morning, but is only available after 2 p.m. by request.

Helping Brunswick’s newest residents

Transportation has been a significant barrier for the nearly 100 asylum seekers who have resettled in Brunswick after arriving in Portland this summer, fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These families primarily live in the former Navy housing at Brunswick Landing. 

“Transportation kills a lot of your time,” cultural broker Nsiona Nguizani said earlier this winter, and “you cannot just rely on the explorer.”

The town hired Nguizani to work with the asylum seekers, helping them adapt to their new lives in Maine and troubleshoot challenges — including transportation to stores and appointments.

To help coordinate rides and ease some of the confusion and complications, Nguizani and Midcoast Literacy Director Don Lader worked to create a free ride and child care scheduling software, launched in January. 

Lader helped modify an extension to Joomla, Midcoast Literacy’s content management system, which allows the asylum seekers (and anyone else enrolled in their programs) to schedule childcare or rides around town, to Portland or Boston, in their native language.

The program is helping, but it may be months before the asylum seekers can even apply for a work permit. In the meantime, many need to get to Portland, to Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program, to the grocery store, the doctor’s office, or bring their children to school and back. 

Room for other stops 

The study, expected to be finished by the end of August, will examine demographics and public transit demand all over town, including at employment centers, medical facilities, educational institutions, human service agencies, housing developments, retail and food establishments and civic, social and religious organizations, according to a draft of the scope of services. 

Councilor David Watson said he would like to see the study examine stops for the three mobile home parks in Brunswick. 

“Right now the bus service, as far as I’m concerned, only serves the in-town people,” he said Tuesday. 

Fred Horch, a Brunswick resident and Green candidate for the Maine House of Representatives seat representing Brunswick, also said it was a “huge need now that’s not being met.” 

“Helping folks get to where they need to go is important,” he said, adding that it “could be good for everyone.” 

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