Let’s say you are a state agency tasked with making a tough choice on how to spend your money. Your options are:
a. Spend $150 million on widening 9 miles of highway despite the fact that volume has waned;
b. Spend $56 million on building another toll booth;
c. Spend $3.8 million on expanding an existing, highly successful bus service that will benefit thousands of commuters.
Did I mention that you have to do this all while complying with a state law that requires you to give preference to existing systems and other transportation modes (such as bus transit) prior to increasing highway capacity through road building activities? The obvious answer here is (c), expanding bus service, specifically the ZOOM bus service that is operated by the Maine Turnpike Authority.
Currently, the ZOOM bus runs a limited service between Portland, Biddeford and Saco. The primary hubs are Park & Ride lots, if you’ve driven by those lots, you will see they are chock full. Those crammed lots are a glowing testament to the resounding success of the ZOOM.
In an effort to build on that success, last year the Maine Alliance for Sustainable Transportation approached the Authority to see if it would consider expanding the bus service up to Lewiston and Augusta. Along the way, West Falmouth, Gray, Sabbatus and Auburn would finally get much needed access to public transit. But the Authority remained convinced that answers (a) and (b) were right. After all, highway widening remains a popular solution to just about any transportation problem, despite the fact that, time after time, massive multi-million dollar widening projects only result in more traffic and more congestion. [the fact is, these roads never pay for themselves via tolls or otherwise.]
Does Portland really need another highway widening?
No, and the numbers prove it:
But transit advocates, CLF among them, were not dissuaded. We found a savvy supporter in Representative Bradley Moulton, a newly elected Republican, who decided to sponsor the ZOOM bus bill, known formally as “An Act to Expand Fiscally Responsible Transportation Through Increased ZOOM Bus Service.”
And fiscally responsible it is. Not only for the average commuter struggling with rising gas prices, but in the broader context of how Maine decides to spend money on transportation. The days of subsidized highway widening projects are over. With the fiscal belt tightening, now is a good time to make some smart decisions on transit. The ZOOM bus goes a long way towards accomplishing that goal.