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City seeks input on Peaks Island ferry infrastructure study

A planning board held a remote public meeting for about two hours on Peaks Island Ferry Landside Operations Study taking public comments and live polling.

PORTLAND, Maine — For about two hours Thursday evening, planners for the Peaks Island Ferry Landside Operations Study presented two-phases during a remote public meeting focusing on infrastructure concerns about the island's landing on Welch Street.

The planning board outlined the current recommendations to help with traffic and pedestrian flow, additional freight handling and loading area, terminal building improvements, registering vehicles for island parking and access for residents, as visitor and resident populations continue to trend upwards.

Lining up along Welch Street on the island might look different if the current plan comes to fruition. By expanding the road and leveling the sidewalk, it could give more space for vehicles in line to board. Portable barriers, signage, and even staff might be on-hand to manage the crowds during the peak summer season. A new side-pier adjacent to the green gateway could move cargo and freight away from passengers, to cut down on time loading and unloading.

Live webcams were even brought up so those trying to catch the ferry can see the queue from a smartphone or computer ahead of time.

On the mainland side, construction improvements on Casco Bay Lines terminal building will add new administration space and other freight opportunities, and it's expected to start in early Fall. The project could take 18-20 months to complete.

The study’s goal is to find opportunities to improve safety, comfort, and efficiency while addressing the mainland side at the intersection of Franklin Street-Commercial Street-Maine State Pier.

Paul Pottles, the director of projects for Casco Bay Lines gave an update on a new ferry entering the design phase. 

The current car-ferry, Machigonne II, is 122 feet long and can carry 399 passengers and 12 vehicles. The new vessel is expected to be 164 feet long, carry 599 passengers and 15 vehicles, although Pottles says the CBL board has already talked about limiting passenger amounts. 

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The diesel-electric hybrid model may even be able to do its route completely on electricity. The ferry could be in service by 2022.

Residents did comment that this study is completely missing the mark and that tourists and daytrippers are being considered over residents. Some say they are attempting to justify the size of the new boat and are not considering preferential boarding and fare reductions for islanders.

The study is currently seeking input from those who were unable to attend. An online survey is available until July 23. Two-hundred people have taken it to date, according to Bruce Hyman, the Transportation Program Manager Department of Planning and Urban Development for the City of Portland.

The current recommendations have not been finalized.

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