Have you ever walked or biked along the side of a road with a narrow shoulder and felt that clench of anxiety and racing heart when a truck careens past and almost hits you? Have you considered biking to work, but avoided it because of dangerous roads and lack of a bike lane along the way?

Preparing for the 2022 Tri for a Cure, Jen Tarr of Augusta goes on a training run last July on the Kennebec River Rail Trail in downtown Augusta. The proposed Merrymeeting Trail would link the Kennebec River Rail Trail to the Androscoggin River Bicycle and Pedestrian Path. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal, File

I have, and I know I’m not alone. Making active transportation safe in a car-bound state is a big job, and there are a lot of solutions, including sidewalks and bike lanes. Another exciting opportunity is adapting disused state-owned rail corridors to create an off-road active transportation network across the state. If you’ve ever traveled on the Eastern Trail or Down East Sunrise Trail – beautiful off-road trails where people can walk, bike, roll and enjoy the outdoors – you know the possibility that these corridors hold.

In March, the Maine Department of Transportation issued its Active Transportation Plan, recognizing the possibility of using “state-owned, inactive rail corridors” for active transportation. Among the inactive corridors considered in the plan were the Mountain Division Line from Standish to Fryeburg; the Berlin Subdivision from Portland to Auburn (a key part of the proposed Casco Bay Trail), and the Lower Road corridor from Gardiner to Brunswick (the proposed Merrymeeting Trail).

The state created an advisory council process to assess the best use of each of these inactive corridors. The Mountain Division was first to complete the process, with a majority vote in favor of a trail.  The transportation commissioner has since recommended that the Legislature adopt L.D. 404, to authorize an interim trail on the corridor. Next in line was the Casco Bay Trail, with a majority of the advisory council voting for some type of trail use for the corridor, and awaiting the transportation commissioner’s recommendation following the vote.

Now, the advisory council process is underway for the Merrymeeting Trail, and they need you to express your support for the vision in an upcoming public meeting June 22, or via written comment online. The Merrymeeting Trail is a proposed 26-mile trail that would connect the villages of Topsham, Bowdoinham, Richmond and Gardiner. It would link the Kennebec River Rail Trail in the north to the Androscoggin River Bicycle and Pedestrian Path in the south – joining Augusta to Brunswick (and one day to Bath), creating an active transportation thoroughfare connecting the capital to the coast. The southern terminus in Bath would also connect the Casco Bay Trail (proposed to link Portland, Lewiston and Brunswick in a 72-mile loop).

Jen Tarr continues her training run along the Kennebec River Rail Trail, which, in this section, is a downtown Hallowell sidewalk. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal, File

The flood of public comment in support of the Mountain Division Trail and the Casco Bay Trail shows that people already understand the amazing benefits of traffic-separated, long-distance trails connecting communities all across Maine. More than 150 people commented on the Mountain Division Trail (with the majority in favor of a trail), and more than 800 people commented on the Casco Bay Trail (with 88% in favor of a trail).

The public comment demonstrated that off-road trails will be transformational for our communities and our state. Some people plan to use the trail to commute by bike instead of by car. Others want to enjoy the outdoors with their family – safely, and without fear of being hit by a car. Still others highlighted that rail trails offer a flat surface perfect for using a wheelchair or stroller. The public comment reflected the public health and environmental benefits these trails would provide, and associated studies showed that adapting these corridors to interim trails is feasible and cost effective.

We hope that as many people as possible will take a moment to support the Merrymeeting Trail – a critical piece of the active transportation network from the capital to the coast – at the upcoming public meeting June 22.

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