Portland explores possible transportation hub links

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PORTLAND — Getting there from here has been a proverbial challenge in Maine.

On May 7, about a dozen city residents got together at City Hall to hear about a study of how to best get passengers from the Portland International Jetport and Portland Transportation Center to the ferry terminals on the waterfront, on a route not already provided by the city Metro service.

Boris Palchik, a senior associate with the Boston office of consultants Nelson Nygaard, led the 90-minute forum by detailing the four objectives of the study: connectivity, mobility, economic development and cost effectiveness.

“We do kind of envision this service as being rapid transit service,” Palchik said.

The hubs to be linked are well travelled; boardings peak at 96,000 per month in the summer at the Jetport, while 500,000 ride buses and 171,000 people board the Amtrak Downeaster at the Portland Transportation Center. More than 195,000 people use Casco Bay Lines ferries in the peak month of August.

Palchik said the study considered routes on two phases using Interstate 295, Commercial Street and Congress Street, or a combination of the roads. No firm route has been chosen and service funding remains undetermined, as does determining who best can benefit from the new service.

“Connectivity favors tourists, mobility favors residents,” Palchik said.

The intent of the study is to determine how to best get arriving visitors downtown, while also reducing local reliance on individual vehicles.

The route mileage from the Portland Transportation Center to the Casco Bay and Ocean Gateway terminals varies by half a mile, but round-trip times vary from 17 minutes using the I-295-to-Franklin Street route, to 27 minutes along Congress Street, which would also provide a link to the Metro Pulse hub on Elm Street.

A hybrid loop route on Congress and Commercial streets was also suggested, but Palchik noted it could double the cost by requiring two buses running in opposite directions. A crowd consensus also favored not requiring riders coming from the Jetport to change buses at the Portland Transportation Center.

Some service funding will come from the tax increment finance district established at Thompson’s Point to capture a portion of the increased property tax revenues from the proposed $100 million mixed-use development along the Fore River.

The study was funded by $40,000 from the Federal Transit Administration, with a $10,000 local match, city Transportation Program Manager Bruce Hyman said Tuesday.

Route choices may account for areas of future business development, so Commercial Street may be a more attractive choice, Palchik said. A scoring matrix using factors such as service frequency, route speed, ridership potential and integration with existing services will be developed before final recommendations are made.

Hyman expects to host another meeting in late summer or early fall offering more finite details on routes and costs.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.