August 14, 2017

METRO announces ambitious westward expansion plans

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
Greg Jordan, general manager of Greater Portland METRO Transit, sees mass transit as a solution to labor shortages, providing affordable transportation. METRO announced today a major westward expansion called "Transit West Project" that includes unlimited passes for students at the University of Southern Maine.

Here's what's included in the Transit West Project

The Transit West Project includes three major features:

Husky Line: This new bus route will be a limited stop, higher speed transit service with a distinct brand. The Husky Line will introduce transit service to the Town of Gorham, connect the USM Gorham-Portland campuses and increase the level of transit service along the William Clark Drive/Main Street corridor in Westbrook and the Brighton Avenue corridor in Portland. The Husky Line will parallel and relieve overcrowding on METRO's Route 4, which today provides transit service between and within Westbrook and Portland. With the Husky Line and a restructured Route 4 operating in tandem, daytime transit service between Westbrook and Portland will double from one bus every 30 minutes to one bus every 15 minutes.

Blue Line: Another new bus route will directly connect northwest Portland and Westbrook with the Maine Mall area of South Portland. The Blue Line will expand transit service to key destinations like the Westbrook Community Center and the growing higher density residential developments along Spring Street. Today, a transit trip from downtown Westbrook to the Maine Mall area in South Portland takes two buses and nearly two hours. Starting in August 2018, the same trip will take one bus and be under 30 minutes while also relieving overcrowding on METRO's Route 5 between Portland and South Portland.

USM U-Pass Program: METRO and USM have reached an agreement to provide an unlimited access transit pass program (U-Pass) for the approximately 8,000 students enrolled at USM. Like METRO's successful partnership with Portland Public Schools, the U-Pass program will provide USM students unlimited access to METRO's transit system. The U-Pass program not only provides students access to the Husky Line and travel between the two campuses, but also allows on and off-campus students access to METRO's entire transit network for all trip purposes.

METRO and USM anticipate the U-Pass program will advance the following goals:

  • Improve student and employee mobility and access to classes, jobs and recreation

  • Lower household cost of transportation

  • Reduce traffic congestion, carbon footprint and improve air quality

  • Improve connectivity between the USM Gorham and Portland campuses

  • Contain costs and reduce need for additional on-campus parking, allowing for better uses.

In what's being described as the most significant expansion of public transportation in Maine since the 2001 launch of the Amtrak Downeaster, the Greater Portland Transit District announced today its "Transit West Project" to boost service to Gorham, Westbrook and South Portland as well as create new routes within Portland.

The district's project includes a formal agreement with the University of Southern Maine for an Unlimited Access Transit Pass Program, or "U-Pass Program," for as many as 8,000 students enrolled at USM.

"As a community-engaged university, USM is delighted that the Transit West project will not only provide substantial new benefits to our students, but also for people living in Gorham, Westbrook and other surrounding towns," USM President Glenn Cummings said in a news release. "This is a game changer for our university and for the entire region."

With the agreement in hand, the Greater Portland Transit District's METRO program and the Transit West Advisory Committee will begin a public planning process this fall to identify bus stops, finalize new routes and determine service levels, including frequencies and hours of operation.

The Transit West Project is scheduled to launch in August 2018.

Here's what it will cost

Capital costs related to new buses and bus stops are estimated at $4 million to $4.5 million and will be funded with a combination of Federal Transit Administration grants, which will cover 80% of the cost, and local contributions, which will cover the remaining 20%.

The added annual operating cost to implement the service expansions is estimated to be $1.6 million to $1.7 million.

The major funding sources include federal funding from the Federal Highway Administration's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program, USM U-Pass program revenue, new fare revenue from added ridership due to the expansion, advertising revenue and local contributions from Gorham, Westbrook and Portland.

Courtesy / Greater Portland Transit District
Courtesy / Greater Portland Transit District
Map shows the new routes that will be created under METRO's Transit West Expansion.

"While the Transit West Project involves an expansion of public transit to Gorham, it is also a major transit expansion in the urban cores of Portland and Westbrook, where improved transit services are sorely needed," METRO General Manager Greg Jordan said in a news release.

"The USM U-Pass program has the potential to dramatically increase regional transit ridership and build a generation of transit savvy young adults who recognize that our economic prosperity and quality of life are linked to advancements in our multi-modal transportation infrastructure."

METRO is Maine's largest public transit agency and provides more than 1.8 million passenger boardings per year throughout the communities of Falmouth, Freeport, Portland, South Portland, Westbrook and Yarmouth.

On Aug. 24, METRO will implement improvements to the METRO BREEZ Express Bus Service, including an expansion to the Town of Brunswick.


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