Why do we choose to live in Maine? The world is vast, yet 1.3 million of us have made our homes here. If you asked Mainers off the street, I suspect they would mention our picturesque rolling hills and icy blue ocean, our food, our culture or because it’s the way life should be.

I’m certain our state’s public transit system would not be on the list.

Public transit has been a low priority for our nation for a long time, but it has especially been neglected in Maine. Across the state, dozens of railroad crossings exist solely as a monument of a bygone age, and what bus connections do exist are so infrequent as to be all but invisible outside of Portland. Yet, at Sierra Club, we believe that we all have a responsibility to be shepherds of the future — to guide a path in which the ideals of today become the reality of tomorrow. Our vision for Maine is one without pollution, where our natural environment remains protected for generations and all Mainers are able to live a healthy, successful life. There is no single solution that will allow us to realize this vision, so I’m writing today about just one piece of the puzzle: our interconnected transportation system.

In the early 20th century, almost all travel in Maine was accomplished by foot, by horse or in a rail or trolley car. Back then, Maine’s prolific winter snowfall and brutal mud season made travel by public transit the only reliable option during certain times of year. It wasn’t until the Federal Highway Act of 1956 and the completion of Interstate 95 in 1981 that automobile dominance firmly took root in our state. Today, we are just beginning to see the limits of our single-modal system. With rising gas prices and traffic snarling roads in southern Maine every summer, it’s no surprise that many Mainers are starting to look for alternative options to get from A to B.

So what exactly would an expanded transit system look like? It’s hard to say for certain, and there are many professionals more qualified than myself to answer that question. What are certain are the benefits a multi-modal system would bring to our communities. With sky-high housing prices, connecting outlying communities to larger cities has the potential to create significant job opportunities for those who are priced out of urban areas. Commuting via public transit is notably cheaper than commuting by car — car expenses can range as high as $900 a month, while a monthly bus pass is often less than $60. Additional transit options are especially helpful for aging Mainers, who are often on a fixed income, and for those whose disabilities may make driving challenging. What’s more? Fewer car trips means fewer greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere, less pollution and a net positive public health impact.

There is so much work to be done to fully realize the potential for expanding public transit in Maine. Today, we’re asking the state to take just the first step by enacting L.D. 1559, An Act to Advance the State’s Public Transit Systems by Reinvigorating the Public Transit Advisory Council and Increasing Funding, sponsored by Rep. Maggie O’Neil, D-Saco. L.D. 1559 would strengthen the Public Transit Advisory Council and give the group the resources it needs to develop a statewide plan to address public transit access, management and coordination. The bill would also bring in additional stakeholders, including labor, immigrant and youth voices into the conversation — to help us create a vision that includes all Mainers.

History has shown that public transit has a place in our state, and by making it work again, we can help build a livable future — for all Mainers. I hope you’ll join me, the members of Sierra Club Maine, dozens of community leaders, city governments and other environmental organizations in support of this common-sense legislation.

Comments are not available on this story.