Bangor committee gives go-ahead to comprehensive busing study

Bangor Area Transportation buses at the Pickering Square bus station in November 2010.
Bangor Area Transportation buses at the Pickering Square bus station in November 2010. Buy Photo
Posted Oct. 01, 2012, at 8:21 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor City Council government operations committee gave a unanimous thumbs-up to proceed with a comprehensive Bangor area transportation study that could result in the relocation of hubs like the one at Pickering Square.

Bangor Community Connector Superintendent Joe McNeil went over some of the reasons behind the study, primary among them the fact that the city’s bus service has grown in ridership and outgrown certain areas. The Pickering Square parking garage is one of those areas.

“I don’t know that we have outgrown our current facilities, but we don’t have a lot of room to grow. Right now we’re at capacity,” said McNeil. “What we need to do is take a look at what we are and where we’re going, and how to best serve the city and surrounding areas.”

The study, which will cost $31,250 and be paid for with a Maine Department of Transportation planning grant, should take about two months to complete. It could begin as early as November or December, once the city has put out requests for bids on the study and accepted the best offer.

Councilors on the committee pointed out areas they wish to see evaluated in the study.

“I just don’t want it to overly sample downtown when it comes to possible alternative locations,” said Councilor and Mayor Cary Weston. “I think it would make sense to link the airport with any comprehensive hub plan.

“I’d caution that we not look at this with downtown-tinted glasses.”

When Councilors Ben Sprague and Geoff Gratwick voiced concerns over having budgetary numbers ironed out or at least projected beforehand, McNeil and Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow pointed out that costs can’t be computed until after the study identifies all — if any — alternative locations for hubs.

“We have no idea on the scope or cost of this project at this point,” said Conlow. “We’ll know much better after the study is completed.”

When asked about the potential cost and methods of funding a systemwide overhaul or less ambitious “tweaking” of certain aspects of the Bangor public transit system, McNeil said it would all have to be paid out of local coffers as the federal government has budgeted a total of just $86,000 in capital equipment grant money for Bangor over the next two years.

When asked what routes were busiest, McNeil identified those serving the Bangor Mall routes and Capehart neighborhoods.

If the hub at Pickering Square were relocated, the city would have to pay back about $50,000 to the Federal Transit Authority, which funded the $100,000 Pickering hub project 20 years ago. Because it was assigned a 40-year lifetime, 50 percent of that cost would have to be repaid.

Bangor’s Community Connector transit system operates with an annual gross operating budget of $1.4 million with $380,000 of that cost being paid annually by Bangor. Surrounding towns that have bus routes in them such as Orono, Brewer and Hampden also share in the annual cost of operation.

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