If you are one of those who use Downeast Transportation this winter to get to Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, you soon will find yourself boarding a warm bus for a change. And that’s only the beginning.
Among the improvements in the 30-year-old system, a dozen of the buses soon will be stored overnight in the new bus maintenance and operations center in Trenton. Until now, they have spent the night outside. The building also will provide office space, a bus washing station, a place for drivers to wait their turn, a bunk room and restroom facilities instead of the present portable toilets.
The Trenton building, access road and a huge commuter parking lot comprise the $14 million first phase of the Acadia Gateway Center, which will serve the transportation needs of visitors to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park.
The next phases will involve construction of a national park welcoming center and a multimodal transportation hub where air, bus and automobile visitors can board the free seasonal Island Explorer buses that shuttle people to campgrounds, Thunder Hole, the summit of Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond House and other sites. Greyhound and Concord Trailways could also serve the new hub.
Island Explorer buses already are alleviating parking problems in the park. Automobile congestion is worst at Jordan Pond House, where a plan is under way to limit parking to one side of the approaching road and encourage more use of the buses.
Automobile traffic in the park reaches its height in the last week of July and the first two weeks of August. The record peak came this year on Aug. 17, said Charlie Jacobi, who specializes in visitor numbers. He explains that it rained all day on Aug. 16, so the 17th brought a double dose of visitors. Oddly, the annual number of park visitors has never yet reached its 1995 record of 2.8 million. After a lag, the total reached 2.5 million in 2010 and slipped to 2.3 million in 2011.
Downeast Transportation, founded in 1979 with just three buses, now has 41 buses and two vans operating throughout Hancock County, with year-round service between Ellsworth and Bangor and in-town shuttle service for Bucksport, Ellsworth and Bar Harbor.
Tom Crikelair, Downeast Transportation’s first manager, continues planning for the system and operates his own consultation and planning business. Looking toward the future, he says that Downeast Transportation’s present system, with mostly propane-powered buses, could be expanded to serve emergency needs in case of an unexpected skyrocketing cost of gasoline.
Iran’s new threats of closing the Strait of Hormuz, where one-sixth of the world’s oil transits, are a reminder of what could happen to the price of gasoline. If commuters should ever find it too expensive to drive, there will now be a bus to take.