AUBURN — A study of the best commuter routes between Portland and the Twin Cities is just the first step towards regional bus service, according to Greg Jordan, general manager of the Portland Metro bus service.

“This is a very preliminary study, a high level look at what might work and what ridership might be for an inter-city bus service,” Jordan told Auburn City Councilors on Monday.

Jordan outlined Portland Metro’s plan for five round-trip bus routes daily Monday through Friday connecting the Twin Cities with stops around downtown Portland. The service would offer limited Saturday service as well.

Now, the plan is to study two route options — a faster express service up Interstate 95 or less expensive service connecting to Yarmouth and Freeport and continuing up Route 136.

Jordan is scheduled to make the same presentation to Lewiston City Councilors at their 6 p.m. workshop meeting today.

Jordan said Portland Metro is almost ready to begin Portland North service, connecting downtown Portland with Falmouth, Yarmouth and Freeport. Portland Metro has been working on that service since 2013 and should debut next spring.

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“It may also be a building block to what we want to do here,” he said.

The plan had to be approved by both towns and received federal funding.

He expects service to Lewiston-Auburn would follow a similar path. Portland Metro is starting to study possible ridership for the two routes to determine which would work best for commuters.

The first would carry Lewiston-Auburn passengers to downtown Portland in about an hour with limited stops along the Maine Turnpike.

The second would tie into Portland Metro’s 2016 Yarmouth-Freeport service, with stops in those towns as well as Falmouth. It would be slower — with one way trips of up to 90 minutes — but would be less expensive for Lewiston and Auburn.

“We are not looking at rail, we are not looking at anything else,” Jordan said. “We are looking at the nuts-and-bolts of a bus service.”

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He estimated tying in to the Yarmouth service would cost $900,000, with Lewiston and Auburn each paying between $98,000 to $114,000 each year.

Creating an all new route along the Maine Turnpike would cost up to $475,000. Lewiston and Auburn would pay more, between $138,000 and $170,000 under the turnpike route plan.

“All these costs and revenue assumptions will get refined as we get the ridership projections back,” Jordan said. “We can see what that could translate to as far as boardings and fares and what makes sense.”

Howard Kroll, Auburn’s city manager, said the city needs to begin working now if this is the kind of service councilors want. Both plans are potentially expensive for the Twin Cities, so they may want to ask the state Department of Transportation and Maine Turnpike Authority for help.

“Let’s not just think that this will be on the backs of our local users,” Kroll said. “I want to go after every federal option, every state option we have to make this system a success and available to the users in the our region as well as the Portland area.”

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