We are tangibly close to having a continuous off-road greenway that connects the communities from Kennebunk to Portland, Westbrook, Lewiston-Auburn, Brunswick and Augusta. Situated along many of the major commuting corridors in southern Maine, this regional trail network would be among the most frequently used in America, promoting health and fitness, reduced greenhouse-gas emissions, tourism, economic development and enhanced community life.

Critical to achieving this vision is the repurposing of four state-owned rail corridors in our region, much like the repurposing of a rail corridor purchased by the state of New Hampshire for their greenway path from Portsmouth to the Massachusetts border. In Maine, three of these corridors are already state-owned, unused by trains and largely redundant with separate and active rail corridors that can be cost-effectively maintained for current and future train passage.

• Project 1, the Casco Bay Trail, uses the former St. Lawrence & Atlantic corridor from Portland to Yarmouth. Importantly, an active rail line used by the Amtrak Downeaster already provides train passage from Portland through Yarmouth on its way to Freeport and Brunswick. The St. Lawrence & Atlantic is a totally separate corridor on essentially the same route. This is a case where no rail-versus-trail controversy seems necessary. We can have both: a well-maintained track for active rail use and one of the most popular greenway trails imaginable.

To the south, the Casco Bay Trail would connect to the Portland Trails network, including Back Cove, the Eastern Promenade trail and 22 off-road miles of the Eastern Trail from South Portland to Kennebunk. To the north, it would connect to the Beth Condon Pathway, running from Yarmouth to the Freeport YMCA, and the West Side Trail, running from western Yarmouth to the far end of Cousins Island. L.L. Bean and the town of Freeport are also collaborating on a trail extension from the YMCA to downtown.

Constructing the Casco Bay Trail in no way inhibits passenger train service from Portland to Lewiston-Auburn. The Amtrak Downeaster could easily fork from its existing corridor with one track going to Freeport-Brunswick and the other to Lewiston-Auburn. Indeed, an exciting vision is taking shape with Amtrak stops at turnpike Exit 53 in West Falmouth and Pineland and turnpike Exit 72 in Auburn and downtown Lewiston-Auburn. The Casco Bay Trail is complementary with this vision.

• Project 2, the Merrymeeting Trail, repurposes an unused rail corridor from Brunswick and Topsham to Gardiner. It connects the Kennebec River Rail Trail to the north with the Androscoggin River Bicycle and Pedestrian path to the south, advancing a 40-mile “Capital to Coast” trail system. For commuting purposes, it serves residential communities surrounding Augusta, Brunswick, Topsham and eventually Bath. It would be a spectacular greenway through villages, forests and fields and along rivers.

• Project 3 connects Lewiston-Auburn to Portland, via the Casco Bay Trail. Fully complementary with passenger rail service to Lewiston-Auburn, this connector would repurpose another state-owned, unused and redundant segment of the former St. Lawrence & Atlantic corridor. It is part of a comprehensive, regional, interconnected, multimodal transportation vision that encompasses buses (METRO, Breez, Husky, Concord Coach), trains, trails, highways and ferries.

• Project 4 improves, but does not disrupt, a lightly used rail corridor from Portland to Westbrook. It is a “rail with trail” project that takes advantage of the double track and wide right-of-way of the existing line. It would enhance the regional connectivity of Portland and Westbrook, the revitalization of downtown Westbrook and the Rock Row development project.

Unused rail corridors in other parts of Maine offer similar opportunities: most notably, the Down East Sunrise Trail extension from Ayers Junction to Calais, creating a 100-mile multi-use pathway. All of these projects would be part of the East Coast Greenway, a continuous off-road multi-use trail connecting population centers from Calais to Key West, Florida.

The Legislature is considering a bill, L.D. 2124, that would enable these kinds of projects to be evaluated in a cost-benefit framework relative to other potential uses, so that unused rail corridors don’t stay stagnant indefinitely. Its passage is important for all kinds of reasons: transportation and commuting, combating climate change, community enhancement and tourism and recreation, health and well-being.


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