TRENTON, Maine — A federal agency is giving $4 million toward a project to give the Island Explorer bus system a permanent home.
The money is being award by the Federal Transit Agency to Acadia National Park to put toward the Acadia Gateway Center on Route 3 in Trenton. The first phase of the center, which will include a maintenance and storage facility for Island Explorer buses and a park-and-ride parking lot, is under construction by Nickerson & O’Day of Bangor. The initial phase is expected to be completed sometime next year.
The total $14 million project is expected eventually to include a new Acadia visitors center. Acadia National Park, the Maine Department of Transportation and Friends of Acadia also are partners in the project.
The seasonal, fare-free bus system uses three dozen propane-powered buses to shuttle tourists, residents and employees around the Mount Desert Island area between late June and mid-October each year, when millions of people visit the island and national park. Since it began service 12 years ago, the Island Explorer has had more than 3 million passengers, which advocates say has helped reduce vehicle traffic in and around the park.
The Route 3 facility will be the first permanent home for the buses. They have been dispatched out of an office in Bar Harbor while its fleet has been maintained and stored during its seasonal operations in the parking lot of the IGA supermarket.
In a joint statement announcing the federal funding, U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins said that the project is aimed at helping to support the area’s tourist economy and, by reducing the number of private vehicles in Acadia, preserving park resources and the visitor experience.
“The Island Explorer bus system has been remarkably successful in providing free transportation to visitors in Acadia National Park and residents of Mount Desert Island,” the senators indicated in the statement. “These low-emission, propane-powered vehicles have carried more than 3.3 million riders since 1999, and they have greatly reduced vehicle congestion and air pollution in the park.”