A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Whose priorities?

PACTS, the regional transportation planning agency in charge of doling out federal transportation funds for our metropolitan area, just released its preliminary draft list of "high-priority" 2009 project candidates (listed in order below). Keep in mind that a gallon of gasoline will probably cost well over $4 by then, and also keep in mind that this is a draft list of priorities, theoretically rearrangeable with input from the public...

  1. Rebuild Veteran's Bridge (Route 1 between Portland and South Portland): $30 million

  2. Buses, ferries, paratransit vehicles: $15 million

  3. Gorham bypass, phase II (northern connection between West Gorham and Moser's Corner): $35 million

  4. Widen I-295 through Portland's Bayside and Libbytown neighborhoods: $30 million

  5. Widen I-295 through Falmouth, Yarmouth, and Freeport: $50 million

  6. Rebuild Exit 20 in Freeport: $11 million

  7. Philbrook Road area (between the Maine Mall and the Turnpike): $10 million

  8. Passenger rail to Brunswick (requires operational funding and completion of a 2-year study): $100 million
Note that a combined $91 million near the top of this list of priorities would go towards widening and "improving" I-295 in the same exact corridor as the $100 million Brunswick rail line, which clocks in at the unlikely-to-happen bottom of the list.

These two projects are competing with each other to achieve the same goal: to reduce regional traffic congestion between Portland and Brunswick. Rail transit would meet that goal at much lower costs to neighborhoods and air quality (and probably lower costs to future taxpayers as well, since maintenance expenses are smaller for railroads than for a six-lane freeways), but it's been shoved to the bottom of the list while freeways hog our money.

Why not commuter bus service to Brunswick while the rail study gets written? Where are the bus lines to Windham and Gorham? Will the Sidewalk to Nowhere on the existing Veteran's Bridge finally connect to Somewhere when they rebuild it? Why is virtually all of the proposed funding (save for that bridge replacement and an unwanted Robert Moses-style freeway widening) going to far-flung suburbs instead of town centers?

If I understood the appeal of drive-through cuisine and spending half of my leisure time trapped in a drivers' seat, maybe I'd be able to tell you. Instead, ask your PACTS representatives what kind of exhaust they're smoking. Then let your Congressional representatives know what the real priorities ought to be.

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