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December 19, 2017

Can Portland-Yarmouth bike path coexist with L/A passenger rail expansion?

East Coast Greenway Alliance's proposed Portland-to-Yarmouth segment for a contiguous walk/bike path from Maine's border with Canada to Key West has raised worries that it would interfere with a plan to extend passenger train service from Portland to the Lewiston-Auburn area.

Maine Public reported the group has its eye on existing rail line runs seven miles from the B&M baked beans facility along Interstate 295 through Falmouth and Cumberland to a junction in Yarmouth. That corridor is owned by the Maine Department of Transportation and the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad has a renewable lease for use of the line, although it dropped service to the B&M plant two years ago.

Molly Henry, East Coast Greenway Alliance's regional coordinator, told Maine Public the entire path is 30% complete. Its longest continuous stretch is the 87-mile Downeast Sunrise Trail in Maine.

Ted Reed, an executive at Unum who bike commutes to work most of the year, told Maine Public he supported the idea of a dedicated bike route into Portland.

"I am terrified in a few places on my commute. I cannot use Route 9 in Cumberland. It's dangerous — it's deadly dangerous," he said.

But Paul Weiss, a member of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, opposed the proposal, saying other rail corridors have been degraded by conversion into bike paths.

State Sen. Catherine Breen, D-Falmouth, who sits on the Legislature's Appropriations Committee, said the pursuit of a relatively inexpensive bike path should not get in the way of seeking big-money projects such as new rail service to Lewiston and Auburn.

The Greater Portland Council of Governments is expected to release a preliminary report on the bike path proposal later this month.

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