Monday, August 27, 2012

Councilor floats idea of streetcar system

Portland Daily Sun Councilor floats idea of streetcar system Written by Craig Lyons City Councilor David Marshall expressed his desire to explore the feasibility of a streetcar system for Portland to a council subcommittee Wednesday night. Marshall said he'd like the city to establish a task force that would spearhead a feasibility study to explore the possibility of creating a streetcar or light rail system that would run through the downtown area. He said it's an idea that's been embraced by a number of cities as a way to expand public transportation. "This isn't out of left field or anything," Marshall said. The task force would ideally guide a consultant during a feasibility study that would be funded through a transportation grant. Both councilor Kevin Donoghue and Cheryl Leemen were hesitant to endorse the creation of a task force until they had more of an idea of what the group would consider. Leeman said it might be more appropriate to apply for the grant and do the study before setting up a task force. "There needs to be something to guide them in this process," she said. Donoghue said he'd like to see what the framework would look like for the grant application and feasibility study before a decision is made on putting together a task force. He said there are relevant planning documents the city has already developed that might be helpful to make sure the process is done well. "This is an endeavor which should be done really well," he said. Marshall said the city has had other citizen groups that have guided feasibility and planning studies, most notably the Franklin Street committee. Leeman said she's not sure that Portland has the same critical mass as other cities to support a streetcar system. "I'm open minded about the idea," she said, but thinks there needs to be some parameters before embarking on a full-fledged study. While the two councilors were hesitant, members of the public voiced support for the idea. Joan Saxe, of the Maine Sierra Club, said she's excited to hear that the city might consider some sort of a streetcar service. "I think it's a coming thing throughout the country," she said. Saxe said some of the obvious benefits would be to the elderly and to many younger people who want to use public transportation. Resident Anthony Zeli — who is one of Portland's car-less residents —said he's supportive of the idea because it could mean a lot to the city's economy. He said the streetcar route would create districts where investment could take place to reach the system's ridership. "It's a smart investment," he said, and other cities have found the streetcars and light rail systems show a huge return on investment. "Let's do it," said Tony Donovan, executive director of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition. Donovan said some sort of a fixed rail system could be a great opportunity for Portland. The system could connect transit hubs at Thompson's Point and Ocean Gate, he said, and result in economic development. A fixed rail system is a great way to support established business and encourage new ones to start, said Donovan. Marshall said he'd like the committee members to think about the idea and talk about it further at its September meeting.

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