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Resolution aims to document support for Portland, Lewiston, Auburn commuter service

A plan to explore a commuter service for Portland, Lewiston and Auburn is on track to get support from the communities' governing bodies.
The Portland City Council's Transportation Sustainability and Energy Committee endorsed a resolution that will be sent to the councils in Portland, Lewiston and Auburn to document the support for a commuter transportation system running between the two metropolitan areas.
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said there have been some conversations among the cities about a bus commuter service but the decision was made to talk more about a rail service or bus. He said the resolution is straight-forward and will show a joint commitment by the three cities to study a commuter service.
Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said studying a commuter link is an important piece of planning for economic and urban development. He said the service wouldn't only accommodate existing commuters but could open the door for the under-employed population by linking the two job markets.
LaBonte said Auburn is committed to the creation of a commuter system and recently allocated $500,000 for a transportation hub along Route 4.
"We want to see this happen quickly," he said.
The committee endorsed a joint resolution among Portland, Lewiston and Auburn that would support a feasibility study to look at a commuter service between the two metropolitan areas. The resolution was requested by the committee to start the process to look at the possible linkages between the communities after hearing a demand for that type of service.
By endorsing the resolution, the cities would seek state and federal grant funding to pay for the evaluation, according to a staff memo, and the study would include pieces on land use, economic development, environmental impacts, congestion mitigation and economic justice.
The study would explore additional topics that weren't addressed by a two-year-old study done by Maine Department of Transportation.
The cities would jointly seek grant funding for the study from the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System and the Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center.
Gary Higginbottom, of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, said the study should look beyond the three cities but incorporate stops in the economic centers along the route. He said places like Falmouth, Yarmouth and New Gloucester could all benefit from a connection to the cities.
LaBonte said he's interested in the commuter service having a long life and that's likely going to require some sort of public subsidy. He said having a population density is key to building support for a contribution from the taxpayers.
Trying to serve more areas that might not have the population density could cause a public subsidy to lose its appeal, LaBonte said.

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