Two grants totaling nearly $1 million that have been in the works for several years were officially released last week and are expected to provide a big boost to public transportation in Hancock County.
The grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration will help fund a storage and maintenance facility for Downeast Transportation Inc. and will add new buses to the company’s fleet.
“We have been anxiously waiting for those dollars to come to fruition, so we’re excited for the opportunity to expand what we’ve been doing,” said Paul Murphy, general manager of Downeast Transportation, which serves all of Hancock County and parts of Washington County, and operates the popular Island Explorer buses on Mount Desert Island.
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, praised the possible expansion of Downeast Transportation in a joint statement released last week announcing the grants.
“With Acadia National Park and the world-renowned Jackson Laboratory facility, Mount Desert Island needs an effective commuter system for residents and visitors,” they said.
Second District U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, who recently wrote legislation that will ensure additional federal support for transportation within the park, also credited the Federal Transit Administration for recognizing the needs in Hancock County.
“It will continue the investment in the intermodal facility to relieve seasonal congestion and preserve the Acadia National Park experience,” Michaud, a Democrat, said in a statement. “This project will reduce operating costs, fuel usage and improve the storage of vehicles and the security of the fueling system.”
Murphy said the Island Explorer, a propane-powered fleet of buses that has made a significant impact on reducing the effects of congestion and pollution on MDI, has provided an anchor for the entire system. He also said Jackson Laboratory, Hancock County’s largest employer, has emerged as a high-demand client for mass transportation.
A grant of $776,000 will fund Phase I of the Acadia Gateway Center, an expansive intermodal facility that Murphy said will give Downeast Transportation a permanent home base that it hasn’t had.
“Talk about bursting at the seams,” he said of his current two-room office on Main Street in Ellsworth. “This expansion has been a long time coming.”
The second grant, totaling $182,507, is expected to expand Downeast Transportation’s fleet specifically for commuters to and from Jackson Lab.
“Every bus we run there is at capacity,” Murphy said.
While Murphy agreed that the park and the Island Explorer buses are critical to Downeast Transportation’s success, he said demand for public transit is high all over.
“We’re very proud of what we do,” he said. “There are very few rural transit systems that are as fortunate and do as well as we do.”