SCARBOROUGH — On Dec. 9 the Scarborough Town Council workshopped how public transportation options, particularly in The Downs, could be a solution to the traffic congestion related to population growth.

The Town Council, Greater Portland Council of Governments, a regional and metropolitan planning organization, and representatives from transportation services in the region discussed how increased transportation service in The Downs, may impact traffic flow and increase ridership in public transit.

Between 2010 and 2018, Scarborough accounted for 12 percent of Cumberland County’s overall growth, Chris Chop, GPCOG transportation director, said. As of 2017, 82 percent of all Scarborough residents commute outside of town on a daily basis.

“There are sections of Route 1 with over 25,000 vehicles per day, which is pretty significant and some of the highest traffic volume in the region on roads that aren’t interstates,” he said.

Traffic through and in Scarborough is growing, Chop said. From 2013 to 2019, traffic on Route 1 and Haigis Parkway increase by 26 percent, 7 percent on Route 1 at Maine Medical Center, and 9 percent on the Payne Road.

A map of public transit routes in Scarborough. Chris Chop, transportation director for the Greater Portland Council of Governments, presented transit and traffic data to the Scarborough Town Council on Dec. 9.  Courtesy photo

“Scarborough is generally underserved by transit, particularly for a community of its size in the region,” he said.

The Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach transit line makes about 30 stops a day in Scarborough, 15 northbound and 15 southbound, said Tony Scavuzzo, Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Transit executive director. The line stops in The Downs about seven times a day.

“We do have a relationship with the town of Scarborough as a partner,” he said. “We do have a service that serves the town of Scarborough and specifically the Downs as we speak. Our Portland inner-city connector stops at The Downs and the Oakhill area and 100 Campus Drive.”

He said that the line is looking forward enhancing the service.

A traffic mitigation study is underway, funded by Scarborough, The Downs developer, and GPCOG, Chop said. The study will provide an analysis of several transit ridership scenarios and estimate potential ridership.

“The idea is to provide a holistic perspective at transit ridership potential, not just at the site, but certainly in Scarborough and beyond, looking at regional connectivity and ridership under a couple of different transit service planning scenarios,” he said.

The Downs provides an opportunity to expand public transportation in Scarborough, Chop said.

“Not only does it serve as a prominent anchor in the region — you’ve got now The Downs at one end of Scarborough and Maine Med’s campus on the other,” he said. “You’ve got the municipal complex in between along with the Oak Hill Shopping Center. So there’s a lot of opportunity to kind of connect the dots with this massive incredible mixed use anchor at one end … It provides an opportunity with so much density to actually generate an interest in transit and make transit a viable and competitive transportation option in the region and certainly on the Route 1 corridor in Scarborough more broadly.”

Exploring public transportation instead of roadway expansion may make more sense for a municipality, he said.

“If you add a lane, it’s essentially a one-to-one relationship,” Chop said. “If you increase a roadway’s capacity by 25 percent, you’re going to attract 25 percent more vehicles to that facility, to that roadway.”

“Growth, if it’s done in kind of a piecemeal approach, it could increase the strains on the system, increase municipal expenses,” he said

Another benefit to public transportation is that it cuts down on harmful emissions, Chop said.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, public transit does not seem like a good option for people in the medical industry, Councilor Betsy Gleysteen said. She also asked about the potential loss of riders, who are concerned about the spread of illnesses, during a viral outbreak.

In response, Chop said, “I think there’s been a couple studies around the world that have not shown any kind of discernable relationship between public transit and COVID spread.”

Greg Jordan, executive director of Greater Portland Metro, said that when the pandemic hit, buses added safety measures, went to rear-door boarding only, added a plexiglass partition for the driver and a mask requirement, among others.

“We’re doing a lot of cleaning of our surfaces aboard the buses and in our facilities,” he said. “We have a new fare collection system that is more contactless than our old system, so that was somewhat serendipitous during this pandemic.”

Councilor Jonathan Anderson suggested that GPCOG provide feedback about transportation and transit in the town’s drafted comprehensive plan.

Transit options for the elderly and people living in western Scarborough should be considered as well, said Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina. Education about public transit may be necessary, she said, as Mainers don’t tend to like taking buses or other public transportation.

The town conducted traffic studies in the Dunstan area of town, Town Manager Tom Hall said.

“It was documented that over 30 percent of traffic on Route 1 begins outside of town and is going outside of town,” he said. “Where the Downs is located, the crossroads district is certainly aptly named. Scarborough is a crossroads. Folks are coming through our community to work and recreate and everything in between. In spite of all of our best efforts and intentions to control growth within us, we don’t have a wall around us. We are affected by what happens around us equally.”

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