Lewiston-Auburn rail supporters make case for $20 million bond

AUGUSTA — Lewiston-Auburn rail advocates hope they'll benefit from the Legislature's renewed appetite for state borrowing.

The Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce and others testified Friday before the Legislature's budget-writing committee, hoping the panel will approve a $20 million bond to improve the rail line between Auburn and Portland and potentially the line between Auburn and Bethel.

Supporters say the request could be used to increase the freight-rail capacity into the Port of Auburn intermodal facility while setting the stage for passenger rail service.

The request, LD 417, is sponsored by Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, and supported by regional Democrats representing the region. Craven told the Appropriations Committee that the investment provided a direct benefit to businesses that already use the line to ship goods and a magnet for companies that might seek to locate in the region.

The project is also included in the state's Industrial Rail Access Program, which is designed to encourage economic development along the state's rail corridors. IRAP is a priority program for the Maine Department of Transportation; however, qualifying projects vastly outnumber available funding. 

Craven said the time was right to back the project because of the availability of federal rail funding. States such as Florida have recently scuttled rail projects that were in line to receive millions in federal grant money. That funding is expected to be redistributed to states more willing to advance rail projects. 

Robert Thompson, executive director of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments and representing the county chamber, told lawmakers that rail played a major role in the development of the Lewiston-Auburn area and it would do the same in its future prosperity.

The bond request comes amid approximately $70 million in similar requests for rail projects. Supporters of other transportation projects lined up to testify before Appropriations. The Lewiston-Auburn rail project will compete against those projects.

The committee will begin reviewing a host of other borrowing requests that were carried over from last year when Gov. Paul LePage said he wouldn't support any additional state borrowing. The governor this year has said he might support some bonding, but he has declined to say how much. 

LePage and Republican lawmakers have indicated that the borrowing would likely target transportation infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and potentially, rail.

Large bond packages must receive a two-thirds vote by the Legislature and must be signed by the governor before being sent to voters for ratification.  

smistler@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Joe Gray's picture

Passenger service will take time to build

Having lived in Asia for a decade or so, I found it very convenient to travel by train. Of course, they weren't fighting a car culture the way we will/would be doing. Trains will need a feeder system to really take off. They must also be reasonably priced. It will be an uphill battle, but the end result will be worth it. I tend to doubt I'll be here to see it though.

GARY SAVARD's picture

We have freight rail service

We have freight rail service now, to the point where some lines have been abandoned because they weren't self supporting. As for passenger service in a rural state like Maine , there will not be enough ridership to make that self sufficient, either. Tax dollars to build, and more tax dollars to subsidize operations.

JOHN PAINTER's picture

Now is precisely the time to

Now is precisely the time to begin 'laying the tracks' for the return of passenger rail service to L/A. Maine once had a very extensive and affordable light rail system (as did many parts of the country) which was systematically dismantled by the petrolium and auto industries. Having lived and worked in Europe, it is very clear to me rail saves money for individuals and economies by moving more people safely and quickly for less. I think cars are essential in the American economy especially as one gets into rural areas like Maine, but freight and passenger rail is an essential part of the equation for our economic recovery as oil prices continue to climb. The billions of tax dollars which subsidize our national interstate system and petrolium companies could and should be moved towards rail.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Nothing new here. Margaret

Nothing new here. Margaret Craven willing to spend other peoples money whether it makes economic sense in our current economic environment or not.

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