On August 23 — following nine months of regular meetings, discussions, fact-finding, and analysis — the Rail Corridor Use Advisory Council convened by MaineDOT and charged with making a recommendation around future use of the Lower Road rail corridor voted to recommend the creation of a trail along the corridor!
The vote was 11-3 in support of an interim use of the rail corridor between Brunswick and Gardiner as the Merrymeeting Trail, connecting to the Kennebec River Rail Trail to Augusta. The three members who opposed the motion signed on to a minority report calling for constructing a trail alongside the corridor. Importantly, this means support for a trail was unanimous among Council members, with a large majority believing using the existing rail bed for the trail would be the most cost-effective and practical solution while still preserving the option to return train service in the future.
The 14 members of the Council were appointed to represent the views of communities along the corridor, as well as state agency, economic development, tourism, and rail and trail interests.
Here is the resolution endorsed by the majority of the Council:
Be it moved that:
The Lower Road Rail Use Advisory Council recommends the conversion of 33.5 miles of existing state-owned railroad track to an Interim Trail.
This trail may be surfaced with stone dust or paved and be primarily for non-motorized use. During DOT’s trail planning process, the RUAC further recommends that the Commissioner work with the Merrymeeting Trail Board of Supervisors and individual towns to identify potential trail segments where limited motorized use may be permitted, such as where there is space for dual trails.
It is further recommended that any trail developed should not interfere with the current lease with the City of Augusta Parking District.
In terms of next steps, the final report and recommendation will now be conveyed to the Commissioner of Transportation, who will consider advancing this project via a bill to the Transportation Committee of the Maine legislature. In statute, he has substantial flexibility as to whether and when he takes action based on this recommendation, but given the overwhelming community support demonstrated for the Merrymeeting Trail throughout this process (and for many years prior), we are optimistic that he will do so. (And we will of course be in touch to encourage him and offer support. 😊)
This project is by no means a done deal — there will be lots of work and outreach still to come — but this is a hugely important step forward for the Merrymeeting Trail, and it deserves celebration! Thank you to all the trail supporters, to the hundreds who have taken time to submit supportive comments and speak at public hearings. Because of your efforts, the vision for this incredible public resource is closer to reality today than it has ever been before.
Onward! And happy trails!