The Acadia Gateway Center planned for Route 3 in Trenton will serve a vital role for the state’s only national park, help sort out regional transportation snags and provide an economic development opportunity for its host community.
The last point will be foremost in the minds of Trenton voters when they attend their annual town meeting on Saturday, May 30. That’s when they will be asked to approve a contract zoning deal negotiated by the town with the state Department of Transportation, the developer of the project.
Trenton residents may justifiably be wary of DOT. In 2007, the state department indicated it did not plan to seek municipal permits for the project, arguing that the center was too important to the region to face a potential roadblock from the town. This was a strategic blunder.
Trenton residents ought to set aside any ill feelings they have about the process that led to this project and instead focus on what the town will win if it is built. Advocates for the center point to a University of Maine economic study that shows a positive effect for Trenton businesses from the center. Those advocating for the center — Deputy Park Superintendent Len Bobinchock, Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation and Marla O’Byrne, president of Friends of Acadia — say such transportation hubs spur economic growth in adjacent areas. With thousands of visitors stopping daily at the center in the summer to take Island Explorer buses onto the island or to learn more about the park, nearby food, lodging and gift stores should be able to land some of their dollars.
The Gateway Center also will allow local Chambers of Commerce to make their pitch; perhaps area crafts, menus from restaurants and videos of kayak tours will be presented in the ample visitor center that is planned. And with about 100 people employed during the peak season at Downeast Transportation, which will be headquartered at the center, the facility will function like a new business.
Beyond Trenton, the Gateway Center will serve as a sort of switching station for the bustling Bar Harbor and Acadia region, sending visitors to less crowded parts of the park, getting them out of their cars and into Island Explorer buses, and educating them about what makes the island so special so they will have a quality visit.
In the off-season, the center will continue to function as a park-and-ride lot and a bus station for off-island residents who work on the island. About 217 acres of the 369-acre parcel will be conserved, and traditional uses such as hunting and ATVs will be allowed there.
And the location makes sense. If it were on the island, many people would opt to continue to drive rather than take buses. If it were in Ellsworth, those taking the Island Explorer would be sitting too long in bus seats.
With federal funds, the facility will be built well and will be an attractive addition to the Route 3 corridor. The time is right to approve the project.