BAR HARBOR — Figuring out how to solve Acadia National Park’s traffic and parking problems is essential “in order to lay a great foundation for the next hundred years of Acadia,” Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele said last week.
But he acknowledged that the process could be controversial.
A number of thorny questions will be addressed, such as whether tour buses and other oversize vehicles should be banned from the Cadillac Mountain Summit Road. As it is, vehicles over a certain length cannot physically negotiate some of the road’s turns without going over the center line. That reality led to an accident on the road as recently as May 31 when a bus sideswiped a car. Buses also take up a lot of parking space at the Cadillac summit.
Some vehicles are too tall to fit under some of the arched carriage road bridges on the Park Loop Road without straddling the center line. And sometimes even that isn’t good enough.
“We’ve recently reshaped a few RVs with our bridges,” Keith Johnson, the park’s chief of facilities management, told the roughly 60 people who attended an initial transportation planning workshop last Thursday at Mount Desert Island High School. “The bridges hold up very well; the RVs usually lose. But it’s not something that we ought to continue to allow if it’s not going to work.”
Because of the lack of adequate parking at some of the most popular visitor sites, such as Sand Beach and Thunder Hole, vehicles routinely park in the right-hand lane of the Park Loop Road in the summer. While that is allowed, officials say it causes more congestion and creates safety hazards. Whether parking in the roadway should continue to be allowed is another question planners will consider.
The park has a 12-member interdisciplinary team involved in the planning process. They are being assisted by a transportation specialist from the National Park Service’s Denver Service Center and a consulting firm that has worked on transportation planning in other parks.
Johnson said the Island Explorer bus system, which will start its 17th season June 23, has helped alleviate traffic and parking problems in the park. But it, too, is reaching its carrying capacity.
“We started hearing this past year that people couldn’t get on the bus, that there was no more room,” he said.
The purpose of the transportation plan, Johnson said, is “to figure out a way to provide safe and efficient transportation in and around Acadia in cooperation with the communities. We want to make sure we can offer a variety of high-quality experiences to folks and ensure the protection of our park resources and values.”
He said the transportation plan would take into account more than just traffic and parking inside the park. It also will look at the related role of facilities such as the yet-to-be-finished Acadia Gateway Center in Trenton, the international ferry terminal in Bar Harbor and the park’s Hulls Cove visitor center. It is located on a side hill with steep stairs required to reach it.
As for the latter, Johnson said, “You can’t see it; you can’t find it; we can’t heat it; we can’t cool it. It’s a pretty interesting place to have for a visitor center.”
Park staff have been working for more than a year to lay the groundwork for the transportation planning process. Last Thursday’s workshop was the second public meeting to solicit public input. The first, held the night before in Prospect Harbor, attracted about 20 people.
Another set of public workshops in Bar Harbor and Prospect Harbor is scheduled for July 29 and 30.
After that, Johnson said, “We’ll be developing a range of alternatives to review and then have more [workshops] in the spring of 2016. Then we will try to get a draft plan in place by the spring of 2017.”
He said the goal is to have a final transportation plan adopted in 2018.
Johnson and Steele both emphasized the important of public input throughout the planning process.
“The more public opinion we can get, the better the result will be,” Steele said.
Comments may be submitted at the project’s website: www.nps.gov/ACAD.