LEWISTON — State planners were told Thursday they would be making a huge mistake if railroad expansion efforts bypass Lewiston-Auburn.
"Auburn is here and now, waiting for investment," Lewiston Planning Board member Bruce Damon said. "If you put your money here, you don't have to wait five years for redevelopment. We're ready."
Damon was among a group of 100 Twin Cities residents, transportation, business, development and municipal officials who urged state rail planners Thursday to direct investment to passenger and freight rail lines between Portland and Auburn and north to Montreal.
Representatives from a Maine Department of Transportation study group
hosted Twin Cities residents and officials at the forum to
discuss the future of rail in
Maine. State legislators have earmarked $4 million in bonds for rail
investment statewide. Planners are hoping for additional federal money.
The study group met with residents in Portland, Bangor and
Presque Isle earlier this month. They hope to put the information from each meeting into recommendations for legislators by
Currently, a multiple-state, high-speed rail investment effort calls for expanding passenger rail north of Portland east, to the coastal communities of Brunswick, Bath and Rockland.
"That's a shame, because the route up to Montreal is the future," said Don Craig, director of the Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center. "It would connect Boston to Canada and could become a significant source of economic development. Canadians are used to rail; they like rail and they like to come here."
Androscoggin County Commissioner Jonathan LaBonte made the case for expanding freight rail through Auburn. According to the study, roughly 68 percent of the freight shipped from Maine involves paper, pulp or wood products — and most of that ships from Oxford County, including Rumford and other communities west of Lewiston-Auburn. A bigger freight line between Auburn and Montreal could ship some of that freight, LaBonte said.
A tourist-based coastal rail line won't help with that, he said.
"If Maine has been relegated to being a tourist spur for the rest of New England, then we need to make a complete change in the leadership of this state," LaBonte said. "Because Lewiston-Auburn and Livermore Falls and Bangor and Augusta and Freeport have to be more than just places people want to visit. They have to be places where people want to come and live."
Roland Miller, Auburn's economic development director, said he was frustrated that rail lines through Auburn are not a bigger part of the plan.
"I hope there is still time," he said.