A summer shuttle service between Wiscasset and the Boothbay peninsula is picking up steam after the Boothbay selectmen unanimously voted to give $2,000 towards the transportation project.
Boothbay Harbor selectmen are also supporting the project. They unanimously agreed to place an article in the upcoming Town Warrant for $2,000, where at the annual town meeting the voters of Boothbay Harbor will vote either in favor or against the project.
On January 22, Bob Faunce from the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission briefed the Boothbay selectmen on the expanded passenger rail service set to launch in Wiscasset this July.
Since early December there have been discussions with the Maine Eastern Railroad and the Maine Department of Transportation to test a pilot program to draw more people into the Midcoast region, Faunce said.
This summer the Mid-Coast Limited train will be connecting passengers from Brunswick's Amtrak station to the Wiscasset Flyer, a new passenger train offering short round trips between Bath and Newcastle at a reduced price.
Continuing that train of thought, Faunce is looking for approval from MDOT to launch a shuttle and trolley service between Wiscasset and the Boothbay region.
“It seems like the stars have aligned at least for this brief period of time,” Faunce said. “All we need at this point is to figure out what the doable project is and estimate costs.”
The project's scope would not only provide a viable alternative transportation into the Midcoast region, it would also bring more visitors to the peninsula's tourist attractions and hotels, Faunce said.
Faunce estimated the project will cost roughly $45,500. He hopes that MDOT will provide 80 percent of the funding, while the towns could chip in 20 percent matching funds, or $9,100.
So far the $2,000 from the Boothbay selectmen has brought the total town's matching funds to $5,000 which includes contributions from the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce, the Lincoln County Commissioners, and the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission. Should the warrant article pass in Boothbay Harbor, total funds will increase to $7,000.
Due to the shortened time frame between now and July, there are still many uncertainties, including coordinating shuttle routes and stops, Faunce said, however with the town's input, the planning process can be worked out.
While plans are already in the works to coordinate ticket sales and vacation packages from Boston's North Station directly to the Boothbay region, Faunce said the town's donations will not be spent if MDOT fails to approve the project.
The Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Catherine Wygant Fossett also attended the meeting. She said the prospect of having a direct link from Boston to Boothbay Harbor is exciting and that the Boothbay region could benefit tremendously by this economic development project.
The selectmen agreed that supporting the shuttle project is an important cause. After the selectmen voted 5-0 to donate $2,000 from the contingency fund, Fossett said “Thank you for coming on board.”
At the January 27 Boothbay Harbor selectmen's meeting, Faunce and Fossett attended to seek funding. The selectmen were very much in favor of the idea.
“I like the idea that not only visitors, but local residents can use this service,” said Boothbay Harbor Board Chairman Bill Hamblen. “If a local wants to go to Portland or Boston this gives them an opportunity to do so. That’s something our region has lacked.”
There was also discussion of a second shuttle for the region, which would travel around the Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor areas on weekends and holidays. Some stops would be the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, the Boothbay Region County Club, the Maine State Aquarium, and other region amenities not in easy walking distance.
Vice Chairman Denise Griffin asked if the project would require funds immediately, or if they could wait until July 1st after town meeting.
Faunce replied that the funds could wait, and the selectmen voted 4-0 to support the article going on the town warrant.
“I hope it is approved,” said Hamblen, to which Faunce replied “So do we.”