Area leaders are pushing the Legislature to approve a $50 million bond issue to bolster rail service in Maine for passengers and freight.

“It is important that we take steps now to create the future we want to see and eventually will need to face,” former state Rep. Roger Fuller of Lewiston said.

The proposal, which is before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, would be of particular benefit to Auburn, its mayor said.

“Auburn’s progressive land use reforms, which have attracted national attention, along with our municipally-owned freight intermodal facility, are ready-made to capitalize on this bond,” Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque told the panel last week.

“Going forward, the state should reward with rail-based investments those communities that take these bold actions” to increase housing density and reform zoning laws, Levesque said.

The Legislature has more than a dozen rail-related bills on its agenda this session, most of them promoting increased spending and service. While some have testified that rail isn’t a good use of money, most of those who have spoken during hearings have touted the measures.


It isn’t clear, though, that lawmakers are ready to make major new investments in improving tracks and increasing service. There are also disagreements about whether some rail corridors should become trails instead.

Whether legislators are ready to press ahead with more rail money remains uncertain.

Whitney King-Buker of Minot is among those who urged lawmakers to support the bond measure.

“Rail lines, as well as passenger rail, are highly environmental, economical and emotionally viable for the people of our state, as well as future generations, to benefit and preserve our state’s habitats, air quality, financial gains and tangible connection to our state,” King-Buker said.

Tony Donovan, managing director of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, said legislators should endorse the push for more rail service.

“Rail advocacy organizations have submitted bond bills every one of the last four or five sessions,” Donovan said. “Whether it was Bethel, or Bangor, Lewiston/Auburn, Westbrook or Portland, there were rail projects being discussed. We always were passed aside for road bonds.”

“It is disheartening to see rail projects consistently overlooked in favor of road bonds in the past,” Joseph Leonard of Bangor told the panel.

“Maine has the potential to become a shining example of a state that embraces sustainable and multimodal transportation systems,” Leonard said. “Let us seize this opportunity to invest in our future, supporting economic growth, environmental sustainability, and enhanced connectivity.

Levesque said pumping money into rail services would “support economic growth” and increased housing “while advancing strategies that reduce the carbon footprint of movement within our transportation network.”

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