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Brunswick, Freeport asked to help build case for Downeaster extension

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Brunswick, Freeport asked to help build case for Downeaster extension

BRUNSWICK — Freeport and Brunswick, two towns expected to benefit most from the proposed extension of the Amtrak Downeaster, are being asked to help the passenger rail service strengthen its case for federal stimulus money.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which manages the Downeaster, this week began applying for an American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grant for the $35 million project that could establish service between Portland and Brunswick. Patricia Quinn, the authority's executive director, and a team of consultants met with officials from Brunswick and Freeport to discuss how the communities could contribute to what's expected to be a competitive application process.

The extension will be competing against several rail projects vying for $13 billion made available by the Obama administration through the ARRA. Included in the rail funding is $8 billion for the development of a high-speed rail system.

Quinn this week confirmed the Downeaster is eyeing a portion of the high-speed funds, too. She said NNEPRA is working on a separate grant that could reduce travel times for the Downeaster's existing service between Portland and Boston.

The application for the high-speed project funds are expected to be submitted in October. Meanwhile, Quinn said NNEPRA is focusing on the extension application, which is due Aug. 24.

Last week, in an e-mail to extension stakeholders, Quinn said NNEPRA's consultant, Transit Safety Management, would be calling to obtain information that will be used in the Downeaster's application, including job creation data and projected economic impact.

Brunswick Economic Development Director David Markovchick said he and town officials met with NNEPRA's consultants on Tuesday. Markovchick said the meeting was preliminary and that he didn't have specific job creation or economic impact projections. Those estimates, he said, would mostly be generated by statistics from the State Planning Office and census data.

Downeaster service is of particular significance to Freeport and Brunswick, where two development projects – Village Station and Maine Street Station, respectively – have rail components.

The stakes are particularly high for Brunswick. The town has already committed close to $3 million to the development of the $23.5 million Maine Street Station. Brunswick recently increased its investment in the project, this winter signing a five-year sublease for municipal meeting space. And recently, the Town Council voted to enter a five-year, $220,000 lease agreement with the developer to become the master tenant of the project's train station.

In addition to supporting Maine Street Station, Markovchick said the Downeaster extension is important because it would help establish Brunswick as a gateway to Mid-Coast and establishing the "Brunswick brand."

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net