AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that funds a $500,000 study and plan for bringing passenger rail service to Lewiston-Auburn passed the state House of Representatives with little fanfare late last week.
The bill, LD 323, sponsored by state Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, has enjoyed strong bipartisan support at the State House as well as the backing of Lewiston’s conservative Mayor Robert Macdonald.
“Having a workable plan to get passenger rail service to Lewiston-Auburn is a big step toward making it a reality,” Golden said in a prepared statement. “I am gratified by the level of support this bill received in the House.”
Macdonald has likewise said a passenger rail connection for Lewiston-Auburn would be a boost to the region’s economic growth and a well-developed plan detailing the best options for passenger rail expansion in Maine makes good sense.
The Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce and the Bethel Area of Chamber of Commerce have also thrown their support behind the bill, as has the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club.
Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte has also been a long-time supporter of bringing passenger rail to downtown Lewiston-Auburn.
The legislation, which calls for a one-time appropriation from the state’s highway fund, provides money to the Maine Department of Transportation to cooperate with the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority and the cities of Lewiston and Auburn to plan for service between Lewiston-Auburn and the existing Amtrak Downeaster service.
The bill was approved unanimously by the House on Thursday, April 16, without debate or opposition.
Still uncertain is whether the Republican-controlled Senate will pass the measure. Another unknown is Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
LePage has routinely voiced his opposition to and used his veto power to stop so-called “study bills.” Conservative lawmakers are also frequently critical of the public subsidies necessary to operate passenger rail in Maine.
Meanwhile, the Maine DOT has outlined a tentative plan for up to $125 million in passenger and freight railway infrastructure improvements and upgrades. That plan leans heavily on federal funding meant to upgrade the nation’s lagging transportation infrastructure.
Golden and supporters of his bill to develop a “workable plan” for passenger rail to Lewiston-Auburn have said the state’s second-largest metropolitan area deserves the same level of transportation services smaller municipalities, including Brunswick and Freeport, already enjoy.
The bill will likely be before the Senate for a vote in the days ahead.