With the number of crashes on Interstate 295 north of Portland up nearly 25 percent over the average in recent years, it hardly seems like a coincidence that the number of vehicles on the road is spiking, too. A proposed Portland-to-Brunswick express bus could help ease this congestion at the same time that it boosts traffic safety.
I-295 traffic volume rose 12 percent from 2009 to 2015 — to an average of 1.18 million vehicles a day — and it’s expected to keep going up. “Volume is really pressing capacity at times, in particular at the commute times,” Joyce Taylor, chief engineer for the Maine Department of Transportation, told the Press Herald last week.
Express bus service targeted at meeting the needs of these commuters was launched this summer by the Greater Portland Transit District. Metro BREEZ buses outfitted with wireless internet, USB outlets, extra storage space and bike racks run between Portland and Freeport 10 times each weekday, with stops in Falmouth and Yarmouth.
Now the Brunswick Town Council, which met recently with Metro officials, is considering their proposal to expand the Metro BREEZ route to that community, starting as early as June.
Local officials have asked Metro to explore adjusting routing to reduce the projected one-hour travel time. Another valid issue is the service’s sustainability: The express bus, a pilot project that gets federal, state and local funding, will be reviewed at the end of the pilot period and continued only if it’s feasible.
That said, there are compelling reasons to opt for riding an express bus over driving a personal vehicle. Metro has estimated that a Freeport resident with a monthly pass would pay $960 a year to travel on the bus; by car, the same commuter would be spending $5,228 a year on operating expenses like gas and maintenance. The latter figure does not take into account the hassle and cost of parking in Portland, whether it’s feeding the meter, paying tickets or both.
Public transit is also safer, according to a recent survey. Prepared for the American Public Transportation Association, the report found that you’re 10 times less likely to be hurt or killed on mass transportation than you are in a private vehicle. And everybody in the community is better off breathing the cleaner air that results when more people leave their cars or trucks at home.
Metro BREEZ is an innovative idea whose potential public health, financial and environmental benefits shouldn’t be overlooked. As the pilot project continues, we’re rooting for Brunswick to get on board.