New buses for upcoming new routes in city

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WESTBROOK — It will be a little bit easier to get from point A to point B in Westbrook in late summer when METRO launches two new bus lines: The Blue Line (Route 3) will connect the Prides Corner area to downtown and the Maine Mall in South Portland, and the Husky Line that passes through the city as it connects the University of Southern Maine campuses in Gorham and Portland

The Blue Line, which begins Sunday, Aug. 26, and Husky Line, which begins the following day, will be serviced by new buses manufactured by New Flyer Industries in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The 11 new buses, some of which will be used for other METRO service, run on either compressed natural gas or low sulfur diesel. The 40-seat buses come equipped with additional space for wheelchairs and bikes, in-seat USB ports and security cameras and are equipped with “real time” arrival information. According to METRO, up to 13 other existing buses will be replaced with the new models in 2019 and 2020.

“Apart from the fuel source, the more people that are on a bus, the fewer one-person cars there are. A big part of this is getting people on the bus instead of their vehicle or SUV,” said Greater Portland METRO Director of Marketing and Community Outreach Denise Beck.

The new buses are already on the road for training purposes and starting in July some of the existing buses will be replaced with the new ones, Beck said. The average life expectancy for a bus is around 15 years, she said. Greater Portland METRO General Manager Greg Jordan said the last time replacement buses were purchased was in 2014, when METRO bought five new 35-foot buses. 

“There hasn’t been a serious expansion of METRO in many, many years,” he said.

University of Southern Maine students can get from one campus to another now through an arrangement the university has with a private bus operator, but that arrangement is set to expire before the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. Other bus companies have criticized METRO’s taking over the service, arguing the practice uses government funding to undercut private companies and preferring the university put the service out to bid rather than simply award it to METRO.

Beck said the arrangement between USM and her company will improve bus access for university students because it allow students to use METRO’s entire system so “their (USM transit pass program) IDs will be good for all of our buses.”

Beck said Westbrook bus riders have been asking for METRO line to the Maine Mall. Currently Westbrook residents have to take a METRO bus into Portland and then transfer to a South Portland Bus Service bus to get to the mall area. The Blue Line (Route 3) will begin in the Prides Corner/Riverton area and connect the Westbrook Community Center on Bridge Street, downtown Westbrook, the new housing developments on Spring Street, Husson University, Target and the Maine Mall.

As part of the project, the number of trips along Route 2, which connects Portland to Prides Corner, will be reduced. and Route 4, which connects downtown Portland and downtown Westbrook, will be more streamlined. Buses along the route will service the Hamlet housing development on Saco Street, but will no longer be making stops in the Hannaford parking lot on William Clarke Drive or Westbrook Pointe Apartments at the end of Prospect Street. The Westbrook Pointe stop will now be at the corner of Prospect and Mechanic streets.

“We are working to stop out entries into parking lots and plazas like this. It is a safety issue. We’d prefer to stay on the road and make stops there,” Jordan told the American Journal last month.

The Route 4 buses will stay south of the Presumpscot River and no longer travel along Saco Street north of Prospect Street instead using Mechanic Street inbound and outbound.

Jordan said METRO staff will take feedback about the Route 4 proposal at the METRO Ridership Committee meeting Thursday, May 17, at 4 p.m. at the Westbrook Public Safety Building on Main Street. Comments will also be accepted by email: info@gpmetrobus.com or phone: 774-0351.

The $4 million to $4.5 million project includes more than just new bus lines and buses. METRO is also making pedestrian and Americans with Disabilities Act improvements at 30 to 35 bus stops and creating 15 to 20 new bus shelters.

Jordan said most of the bus shelter work will take place over the summer and fall. A new bus shelter will be added at Main and Water street in Gorham. New Westbrook bus shelters will be coming to the corner of Liza Harmon Drive and Main Street, Spring Street near the Blue Spruce residential development, and the intersection of Spring Street and William Clarke Drive. Bus stops will be improved across the city including on Mechanic Street, near the Westbrook Community Center on Bridge Street and along East Bridge Street near Puritan Drive and Dolley Road and at the Spring Street/County Road intersection, where crossing signals will be installed.

The bulk of the funding for the new buses and improvements, 85 percent, comes from federal grants. The remainder will come from state and local sources, including Gorham, Portland and Westbrook taxpayers, as well as advertising and fare revenue. METRO projects the USM transit pass program will bring in up to $500,000.

Jordan said he expects within the next two to three years, there will be 400,000 new bus riders as a result of the expansion of bus routes.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

South Paris residents Walter Perry and his daughter, Veronica, 9, were among those checking out one of METRO’s newest buses during an unveiling in Portland April 28.

The new METRO buses feature USB ports and additional bike racks, run on either compressed natural gas or low sulfur diesel and can seat 40.

Two new bus lines will be introduced to Westbrook late this summer. Route 3 will connect Prides Corner to the Maine Mall. The Husky Line will pass through downtown as it connects the University of Southern Maine campuses in Gorham and Portland. 

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