Access to rapid transit in the future could become increasingly likely for Gorham, Westbrook and Portland as officials discuss a speedy transportation corridor that stretches from the University of Southern Maine (USM) Gorham campus to the Eastern Promenade.
On Wednesday, July 26, from 5 to 7 pm at Riverbank Park in Westbrook, the Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG) will host an open house to provide a progress update about a rapid transit study for the Greater Portland region. GPCOG will also hold a virtual meeting on Thursday, Aug. 6 at 6 pm for those who can’t attend in-person.
Participants are encouraged to register online for either event and officials are seeking feedback before the rapid transit plan is finalized. Once public feedback is collected, officials from GPCOG, a private agency that aims to connect work by governments in 25 municipalities in Cumberland County, expect the study to conclude by the end of this year and will then begin working with municipalities to explore avenues for funding.
According to GPCOG’s transit program manager Andrew Clark, proposed new transit options would allow riders to catch a bus every 10 minutes from Portland to Westbrook, or every 20 minutes from Westbrook to Gorham, using dedicated travel lanes and traffic signal priority.
“Service every 10 minutes is a total game-changer,” Clark said, adding that the plan would leave riders with an average wait time of roughly five minutes. “This level of service is much more convenient for existing riders, but it also opens up a viable alternative to many who otherwise wouldn’t have considered taking transit.”
That frequency would be more convenient for scheduling, according to Clark, compared with current alternative transportation options like Greater Portland METRO. (METRO has its own long-term plans for improving their frequency and convenience for riders also in the works.)
While those involved believe this method of rapid transit is viable, it remains an aspirational project, Clark said. Since it would provide many things that residents are asking for, like increased frequency and faster travel times to compete with car travel, he expects riders to come aboard.
The results come from GPCOG’s broader transit study from spring 2022, which examined the need for alternative transit options between Greater Portland’s municipalities. Since then, officials have narrowed down ideas to this route, which would be anchored by both USM campuses in Gorham and in Portland.
The project won’t be cheap, though Clark did not provide firm estimates.
“To get the dedicated space [for transit] requires a thorough understanding of the tradeoffs, because it has to come from somewhere,” Clark said. “Maybe you have to remove parking or an extra travel lane, or widen the right-of-way. We’re working through those conversations now with the municipalities.”
Ultimately, this is just the first route of a broader vision for optimizing transit throughout the region, Clark said. Transit alternatives could still be on the way for other greater Portland communities in southern Maine.