February 11, 2014
Transportation, or the lack of it, was the focus of an hour-long community meeting at the Cross Insurance Center on Tuesday. The key message? Limited access from Eastern Maine’s rural communities to activity centers affects more than just those who need the transportation. Cancelled medical appointments, lost sales for businesses whose customers have no method of getting to the physical location, and other missed opportunities are all negative consequences of a regional problem.
Speakers included EMDC’s President and CEO, Michael Aube, and Scott Rollins, the Assistant Director of the MaineDOT Bureau of Planning. Aube explained that the meeting was an opportunity to present the findings of EMDC’s TIGER 2 Project, a three-year planning process funded by the Federal Transit Administration, which sought to find passenger transportation solutions for Penobscot, Piscataquis, Hancock and Waldo Counties.
Rollins noted that the Department’s mission—“to responsibly provide customers the safest and most reliable transportation system possible, given available resources” involves far more than simply paving roads and repairing bridges. Passenger transportation is one of the Department’s priorities, he said.
Dorathy Martel, who served as Project Manager for EMDC’s TIGER grant and was a presenter at the meeting, talked about the importance of increasing mobility options in Eastern Maine. “Simply put, we can’t have healthy communities if people can’t get where they need to go,” she said. “Healthy communities are places that offer access to the things that allow people to thrive–critical things, such as employment, education, healthcare, and food; and quality of life enhancers, such as cultural events, outdoor recreation, and entertainment.
At Tuesday’s session EMDC staff and transportation planner Tom Crikelair shared the proposed solutions: things like adding bus routes, encouraging use of existing transportation like shuttle services and ride shares, and, perhaps most important, finding a way to coordinate the options that already exist in order to make them useful for the people who need them.
One solution is the creation of a website that will allow users to access community transportation schedules, calculate fuel costs, find or offer rides, and more. The website is currently in the final stages of completion and will ready for users this spring.
The study also determined that, in order to move forward, a management organization would be necessary. The Eastern Maine Transportation Management Association (TMA) will oversee the website, provide education and promotion, and continue looking for new solutions. TMAs are popular in urban settings but are new to rural communities.
“One thing that was clear from the beginning was that no one wants this to be a project that begins and ends with a grant,” said Vicki Rusbult, EMDC’s Resource & Research and Development Officer. “The real results will come from what happens next.”
Eastern Maine Development Corporation (EMDC) is a private, non-profit organization established in 1967. The organization thrives on supporting the region’s businesses and communities.
EMDC has locations throughout the state to support a variety of programs that contribute to Maine’s economic prosperity. EMDC can be reached by calling 207.942.6389 and on the web at www.emdc.org.