Gov. Janet Mills just announced her ambitious 10-year strategic economic plan, a plan to grow and diversify Maine’s economy. She hopes to attract 75,000 new workers to the state, increase wages and spur innovation. With this plan comes the daunting task of connecting people across industries and governments to make this great state’s future bright. I am excited about this. After attending college in Maine for more than a year, and coming to love its people, culture and natural landscape, I want to see Maine realize its full potential as a world-class place to live, work and play. But this can’t happen without a world-class transportation system.
Currently, Mainers rely almost solely on cars to get around. The state is connected by federal and state highways and arterials, but little public transit infrastructure, except for the Amtrak Downeaster and local bus systems like Portland Metro. Portland and surrounding towns like Brunswick, where I live, are served well: As a college student without a car, I can get between Brunswick and Portland easily and cheaply. For the rest of the state, not so much. Getting between economic regions is difficult. There are no bus connections between Brunswick and Lewiston or Augusta, the cities closest to me, and this is the case for many towns around the state.
As much as I love my new home, I have not been able to explore it thoroughly because I do not have a car. Buying and maintaining a car is not cheap, and adding 75,000 more people to our roads will mean more traffic and more pollution.
Maine is served by Concord Coach Lines, but its connections are more regional, linking Maine with Boston, Logan Airport and New York City. Cities north of Portland are served in a very limited way. Additionally, Concord Coach Lines’ pricing does not match with local bus services. For example, the price for a trip from Brunswick to Portland would be five times the amount of money on Concord as opposed to Metro Breez. Public transportation is often used by low-income community members and students like myself, and so this price discrepancy is too much of a burden for those who need cheap transportation options.
Additionally, Maine must provide its citizens with robust, low-carbon transportation options to mitigate climate change. Mills has been a vocal supporter of climate legislation, and has already signed bills and resolutions supporting this. She has called for Maine to be carbon neutral by 2045. Transportation pollution accounts for 52 percent of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the state cannot lower that number with electric cars alone.
I urge the state Legislature and Mills to establish cheap transit connections along the I-95 corridor, connecting Bangor, Waterville, Augusta, Lewiston and Portland, whether through a bus system or an extension of the Amtrak Downeaster. There should be connections between these places and rural communities along Routes 1, 2 and 27, for example. These connections would improve economic opportunity for urban and rural Mainers. Additionally, Maine should provide public transportation options for those looking to enjoy the state’s many natural areas, like Carrabassett Valley, Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park. This would reduce pollution within the parks, and reduce the need to expand parking lots in these popular spots, which encroaches on natural spaces.
Not everyone can rely on public transportation to get around. Because of our state’s sparse population, many people will need to rely on cars. If those who can use a statewide public transit system do use it, it will make it easier for those who do need cars to get around.
Transportation is the backbone of any great society, and if Maine wants to move forward it must make sure its people can get around easily, cheaply, and sustainably.
Noal Leonetti is a sophomore at Bowdoin College, studying environmental studies and government.