Hill files bill that could help COAST expand to York County | Seacoast Online

Posted: October 20, 2011 | News Items, Senator Hill, Transportation
October 20, 2011

KITTERY, Maine — Expanded bus service in southern York County could result from a bill filed this week by state Sen. Dawn Hill.

Hill, D-York, also filed a second bill seeking legislative approval of state Department of Transportation signage on Interstate 95 directing people to Kittery. Hill said both bills were filed in connection with the closure of Memorial Bridge and, in several years, the planned closure of the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge.

The transportation bill would allow the COAST bus service, which currently operates in New Hampshire, to expand into southern York County, particularly Kittery, Eliot and the Berwicks. The bill would provide the same immunity from tort claim lawsuits in Maine currently afforded COAST in New Hampshire such as limited liability in crashes.

Jeremy LaRose, manager of operations and planning at COAST, said the bill would give the cooperative the flexibility to look at the possibility of service in Maine. “Public transit is becoming more and more popular, so it would be advantageous to us if we did have it,” he said of the lawsuit protection, which is typically afforded to public transit systems in much the same way it is to municipalities.

Kittery Town Planner Gerry Mylroie said the town wants to see public transit from Portsmouth to downtown Kittery and the Route 1 outlets.

LaRose said the bill has no bearing on a public transportation component of the Memorial Bridge reconstruction. As part of that project, the contractor must provide a shuttle between Badger’s Island in Kittery and downtown Portsmouth. COAST put in a bid for that service, said LaRose, but he said he felt COAST could get a temporary insurance rider just for the length of time the shuttle would operate in Maine, if it were chosen.

“But it fueled the issue,” he said. “If we can put ourselves as a regional public transit provider, we can have cross-border services.”

Hill said Kittery officials expressed they were looking for a long-term solution, especially given the fact that work on the Long Bridge will likely begin shortly after the Memorial Bridge replacement is completed. “We don’t have any bus companies operating here,” she said. “This would allow an expansion of service to the border towns that are going to be affected by the bridges.”

Her second bill would permit signage along I-95, directing people to Kittery and its businesses.

Federal law mandates that signs be a certain color and size, and Maine law precludes certain kinds of signage under its billboard law. Hill said, depending on the signs, the Legislature may need to sign off on them.

Among signs that don’t need to be covered by the bill are the three large ones over I-95 explaining the first three exits in Maine, which direct motorists toward Kittery. None mentions the town. The MDOT plans to erect new signs.

“The plans are not completely finalized at this time, but certainly our goal is to have them installed next spring,” said MDOT spokesperson Nina Fisher.

Both bills are considered emergency legislation, as they were filed prior to the second year of the two-year Legislative session. Only emergency bills can be considered at this time. The Legislative Council is meeting next week to consider which of the several hundred emergency bills will make it to the Legislature, which begins the session in January.

With both bridges in line to be replaced, the bills do rise to emergency legislation, Hill said. “We need to address this as soon as possible,” she said. “I’m hoping they see the wisdom of helping the economies of Kittery and Eliot.”