Brunswick base transportation study adds rail, Topsham traffic

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BRUNSWICK — The study commissioned to address transportation issues surrounding the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station has expanded to include two focus areas: rail and Route 201 in Topsham.

Both areas were added to address concerns that the $1 million transportation study was ignoring two significant factors that could expedite the base’s civilian transition. 

The expanded focus area was announced during a work session Jan. 13 at Brunswick Junior High School. Officials from the Maine Department of Transportation said the study area was increased after consultations with Gov. John Baldacci, who thought it makes sense to include rail and the Route 201 area.

In 2007, MDOT secured a $1 million grant to begin drafting mitigation strategies for five focus areas outside the base proper, including Pleasant Street, the Mill-Stanwood Street intersection, Bath Road and the Route 196 bypass in Topsham. The study will help shape decisions for alleviating traffic problems that could otherwise impede redevelopment of the base.

The additions were welcomed by Topsham officials, who during a September work session lamented DOT’s decision to exclude the Route 201 area.

At the time, Topsham Town Planner Rich Roedner said the study dovetailed with the town’s 5-year-old plan to establish a parallel road to Route 196 connecting to Route 201. The plan would also change Interstate 295 Exit 31 and add a traffic signal near the highway ramp.

Roedner said the new road would reduce left-hand turns onto Route 201, a current congestion point.

Meanwhile, discussions continued about re-establishing a rail spur into the base. Proponents say updating the spur could open the door for freight rail and container shipping opportunities.

Gordon Page, executive director of the Rockland-based Maine Eastern Railroad, said last week that expanding the study area to include rail makes sense. Maine Eastern currently runs an excursion service on the state-owned Brunswick-Rockland line, which passes just outside the security gate at BNAS.

This summer, Page was engaged with the base redevelopment agency about potentially leasing a hanger at BNAS for the maintenance and overhaul of freight cars – an operation that would require use of the rail spur.

Although Page said that lease talks have slowed between Maine Eastern and the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, he views rail advocates’ ability to convince Baldacci to widen the study as a positive development.

“If they’re going to include the spur, now is the time,” Page said, referring to plans to revamp the Bath Road entrance to the base, and possibly, a direct ramp from Route 1 into the facility.

Page said that adding the spur after those intersection improvements would likely be too costly.

Page also said he’s hopeful Maine Eastern can establish passenger service from Brunswick to Augusta. He said that service would become more likely if a plan to bring the Amtrak Downeaster to Brunswick materializes.

DOT officials and study consultants said a rail terminal at BNAS could become a hub for container shipping at nearby ports.

Such proposals are still in their infancy.

The BNAS transportation study is also in its early stages. Officials plan to hold another public hearing in March to reveal their 20-year traffic projections. A feasibility study is expected to be unveiled in June.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or [email protected]