Our neighbors in Massachusetts may do us some big favors in Maine

October 1, 2015

Two Massachusetts proposals could provide major benefits to Maine.

Maine hasn’t been part of Massachusetts since 1820 — or, if you prefer, Massachusetts hasn’t been part of Maine since then. Yet the two states, once a British colony together, maintain a symbiotic relationship.

Maine benefits from its proximity to Greater Boston, hub of the New England economy. The tourists who flock to Maine and become seasonal, or permanent, residents are more often from Massachusetts than anywhere else. And we have a lot of open space and splendid scenery that keep our neighbors coming back.Website Insert Call Me State DOTs copy

States are more often presented as rivals than collaborators. Yet two new proposals brewing in Massachusetts could produce major benefits to Maine.

The first is a discussion between former Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis and current Republican Gov. Charlie Baker about passenger train service. Baker wants to expand South Station, which is operating beyond capacity, thanks to commuters’ discovery that they don’t need to drive to work.

Dukakis, who once chaired Amtrak’s board and dramatically improved Boston’s transit links when he was governor, prefers a different, and older, idea — linking South Station to North Station, which also would allow uninterrupted travel between Maine and the rest of the East Coast.

The train tunnel was once part of the “Big Dig” that put the Central Artery underground and connected the Massachusetts Turnpike to Logan Airport. Maine’s Sen. George Mitchell, then majority leader, obtained funding that would have opened the tunnel about the same time Downeaster service began to Portland. Unfortunately, as project costs rose, the tunnel got squeezed out, but it’s every bit as feasible now as it was 20 years ago, and needed more.

The Massachusetts governor and former governor will go a few rounds, but ultimately it makes sense to provide the tunnel and upgrade South Station, though perhaps not on the palatial scale Baker envisions.

What would this mean to Maine? A dramatic improvement in rail service. It’s forgotten now, but back when the tunnel was in prospect, Canadian provinces, including New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, were planning direct rail service through Boston as far as New York.

As we’ve seen with the Nova Star ferry to Portland, Canadians, unlike Americans, are willing to provide generous subsidies for public transportation. If Canadians want to run passenger trains, then many Maine stops, possibly including Bangor, Lewiston, Waterville and Augusta, become feasible.

Read the full opinion column from Douglas Rooks in centralmaine.com by clicking here.



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