AUGUSTA — A pair of bills aimed at expanding passenger rail service in Maine, including one that would extend service to Lewiston-Auburn, are chugging forward at the state Legislature.

The Legislature’s Transportation Committee on Tuesday unanimously voted to approve one bill, offered by state Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, that directs the Maine Department of Transportation to spend $500,000 to study and develop a service plan to extend passenger rail to the Twin Cities.

While lawmakers on the committee approved the measure, left unanswered was how much the cities of Lewiston and Auburn would contribute to help complete the study and service plan.

Golden amended his measure so that an examination of what may be needed for a 13-mile portion of a state-owned rail line — from Yarmouth to Danville Junction — formerly owned by the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad, could be developed alongside a plan to possibly upgrade sections of Pan Am Railways’ track that also reaches into the cities. The Pan Am section would be necessary to bring a passenger terminal to downtown Lewiston-Auburn.

Golden said the parallel look is an attempt to determine what would be the best and most cost-effective way to bring the service to the cities. The bill also requires a vigorous public hearing process that would help determine the direction of passenger rail in Lewiston-Auburn, he said.

Golden’s bill has received broad community support, including the backing of Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald who said last week he would look into how much of the bill his city might be willing to foot.

Golden said he was satisfied with the committee’s decision Tuesday. The city councils in Lewiston and Auburn should now discuss how much funding they might be able to contribute.

“I think we’ve heard the mayor say he’s willing to talk about Lewiston contributing some level of funding, within reason,” Golden said.

He said the city has some transportation planning funds available that may be a ready source for that matching amount. But how much the cities would be asked to contribute remained unclear.

The issue seemed to be at least a concern for some members of the Transportation Committee on Tuesday who voted for Golden’s bill but left it on the committee’s highway funds table, where it will await a final decision based on how it would be financed and measured against other transportation priorities.

Another option offered was to see the bill funded with a portion of about $6 million of annual sales tax revenue collected on rental cars in Maine.

That fund, according to Tony Donovan, a member of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, was set up to fund the passenger rail expansion from Portland to Brunswick, which ended up largely funded by the federal government.

Donovan said Tuesday it made perfect sense to use the money to work toward bringing passenger rail to Lewiston.

Donovan, also a member of Sierra Club Maine’s Executive Committee, said both organizations are not going to give up on getting passenger rail to the Twin Cities.

Sierra Club Maine is backing the effort to expand passenger rail to Lewiston-Auburn. 

Donovan said he sensed Transportation Committee members and most lawmakers in Augusta have a good understanding of the importance passenger rail can play in bolstering a region’s economic development. 

“We are going to Lewiston,” Donovan said. “You can play all the games you want. We are going to Lewiston.”

Another bill, offered by state Rep. Ben Chipman, a Portland independent, would allow municipalities to form transportation corridor districts, or TCDs, as a way to help provide local funding for operating and building transportation infrastructure. That bill was put on hold.

The committee tabled Chipman’s bill, LD 247, which allows municipalities to ask property taxpayers within a transportation corridor district to approve a local property tax to help fund the districts, much the way the city of Portland funds its Downtown Development District.

Chipman said the primary idea behind his bill is to allow local financial support and control for transportation developments including but not limited to passenger rail developments.

Chipman’s measure would allow the formation of TCDs for other types of non-highway transportation upgrades, such as developing bicycle and pedestrian trail systems and passenger ferry services.

Committee members said they wanted more time to study the details of Chipman’s proposal. Following the vote, Chipman said he was optimistic the bill would move forward.

Both bills face additional scrutiny in the weeks ahead at the Legislature.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.