Last week, the City of Auburn along with many different partners held a ribbon cutting for the Downtown Auburn Transportation Center. This center has been in the planning stages for over 12 years, first appearing as a recommendation in the Auburn Downtown Action Plan for Tomorrow (ADAPT) plan.
The original concept, as I’ve highlighted before in this and other reports, was to provide transportation connections from other cities and states to our downtown and for our residents and businesses to reach other regions. Over time, plans were downsized and a design to build just a small warming shack on Spring Street emerged to service just the local bus system.
Thankfully, with involvement from the office of Senator Susan Collins, MaineDOT staff member Sue Moreau and Phil Nadeau from the City of Lewiston and the local transit committee, we were able to pause the Spring Street project and revisit the original intent of a transportation center.
It has always been clear that our local CityLink system needed a high-quality hub to connect each of its routes for travelers, but to integrate that into a facility that could serve to connect us to Portland, Boston and beyond was a unique opportunity. It would have been a waste of taxpayer dollars to build on Spring Street and years later still try to move forward with a connection in the heart of downtown at Great Falls Plaza.
So with the building open, what’s next?
The CityLink system is already serving the building, and it will be locked down at the end of each service day.
Acting City Manager Denis D’Auteuil and I have had conversations with the Portland METRO, the transit system serving greater Portland from Freeport south, about opportunities to create connections for our residents looking to travel there and Portland-area residents or workers interested in calling Auburn home. Those meetings with Portland City Councilor Ed Suslovic and Director of METRO Greg Jordan have been productive.
Concord Coach has partnered with MaineDOT to not only give input on our downtown location, but also for the construction of a small terminal building at Turnpike Exit 75. The Exit 75 facility should be completed in May of 2017 and will be a central location for Concord taking passengers on multi-day trips, given the large parking lot that will be available.
We have always envisioned the downtown location serving business or leisure travelers coming to Auburn for meetings or traveling to our hotels or bed and breakfasts and won’t need the city building them expensive parking to accommodate that.
Between now and next spring, I’m hopeful that our city and the region can come together to support the successful launch of intercity bus service like that of Concord Coach. Creating higher volumes of people movement by transit helps to secure further investment in transit.
Our region has long spoken publicly about wanting links to Portland and Boston. Most of the headlines have read about a desire—and at times an outright demand—for passenger rail service as that mode of connection. While I appreciate the desire, there’s a logical sequence for how these services become successful over time and that requires understanding the market and building that market.
The Downeaster service is often touted as the model of success. And while it may have success in various measures, understanding its connection to coach bus service and the public subsidies are important. A recent City of Portland study noted that there were 171,434 annual passenger rail boardings at the Portland Transportation Center, compared to 500,000 coach bus boardings. That means for every one passenger boarding the train in Portland there are nearly three boarding a bus.
You’ll often read numbers suggesting much higher train ridership, but those numbers include people boarding in New Hampshire or Massachusetts destined for downtown Boston.
If this region wants to position itself in the future to see rail service, keeping an eye on that ratio of bus to train boardings mean we should be aggressively marketing and coordinating the bus movement for 2017. Auburn will continue to do its part, and we hope others join us.