As reported in a story in today's Lewiston Sun-Journal, the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments is wrapping up a feasibility study for extending Amtrak service to the edge of Auburn - and potentially on through western Maine to Montreal. Here's a link to the public presentation the study team made the other night.
Establishing regular rail service between Auburn and Portland in 2020 could cost up to $234 million to start and could require an $8 million annual subsidy, according to a new study presented Wednesday night.That figure is expressed in 2020 dollars - which, adjusted for inflation, amount to roughly $180 million in startup costs and a $6.1 million annual operating budget in today's dollars (assuming an average annual inflation rate of 3%). Putting the costs in 2011 dollars makes for easier comparisons to other Amtrak projects, like the expansion to Brunswick (which cost about $35 million). But by expressing the costs in future terms, the study's authors are already acknowledging that the money (in 2011 dollars) doesn't exist to make this happen.
- Don't rely on Washington or Augusta - local funding will be crucial to bringing Amtrak to L/A, and these cities could afford it, if they only started spending less money on parking garages and highway interchanges. Lewiston, in particular, has gone on a parking building binge in the past decade, spending tens of millions of dollars in local tax dollars to subsidize car travel. Auburn's about to build an expensive white elephant parking garage of their own. And both cities are pursuing big-ticket roadway expansions.
The costs of all these automotive subsidies rival the costs of the proposed Amtrak expansion. Not only is this diverting money from transit improvements; it's also undermining the demand for transit down the road, by filling up downtown real estate with acres of car-storage units instead of with transit-oriented housing and workplaces.
- But you can't have new housing and workplaces unless you're able to bring more people into downtown L/A, so start cultivating transit-oriented development now with a low-cost intercity bus service between Portland, L/A, and Augusta. That will bring new workers, businesses, and households into L/A's affordable downtown districts, raise property values, encourage new investment, and create a stronger customer base for when the cities are finally ready to invest in rail.