TRENTON — The long-delayed construction of a combination visitor information center and Island Explorer bus terminal at the Acadia Gateway Center off Route 3 is in the Maine Department of Transportation’s (DOT) work plan for 2020-21.
But that might be wishful thinking because the DOT doesn’t have nearly enough money to pay for the project, and it isn’t a given that more money will be coming anytime soon.
The original, 2006 design for the Gateway Center envisioned a 25,000-square-foot visitor center and transportation hub with a price tag of nearly $20 million. In 2012, the size was reduced to 13,000 square feet, and the revised cost estimate was $12.5 million.
Eight years ago, the Federal Transit Administration set aside $3.8 million for the project, and that is still the only money the DOT has for it.
A bill has been introduced in the Legislature to ask voters to authorize the state to issue up to $100 million in bonds in each of the next two years “to improve highways, bridges and multimodal facilities.”
If the bill passes in this session of the Legislature, the first $100-million bond question would go to voters this November. Then, in November 2020, voters would be asked to authorize issuing another $100 million in bonds.
If either of the bond issues is approved, the DOT expects to receive up to $5 million for the Gateway Center project.
As for the scope and design of the visitor center and bus terminal, “We need to refresh the plans [and] get new estimates,” said Mary Ann Hayes, the DOT’s multimodal planning division manager.
She said in an email to the Islander that it is likely the project would require more than the $8.8 million the DOT expects to have, even if the bond issue passes.
“When we have a revised tentative design, I’m sure we will have well-advertised opportunities for public comment,” Hayes said. “First we confirm what is needed, then we’ll worry about raising the money.”
The federal government is a possible source of additional funds. The bill now before the Legislature states that the bond money would be used to match “an estimated $137 million per year in federal and other funds.”
In March, Acadia National Park released the final version of its long-range transportation plan, which aims to alleviate some of the park’s traffic and parking problems. The plan envisions the Gateway Center as an important part of the solution to congestion.
It states that visitors who stop at the Gateway Center “would find information about the National Park Service and area chambers of commerce, purchase park entrance passes, learn about commercially operated tours, learn about the park through historical and informational displays, park their vehicles and ride Island Explorer buses” to Acadia and the towns on Mount Desert Island.
Now that the park’s transportation plan has been finalized, Hayes said the DOT is re-focusing on the Gateway Center project.
The first phase of the project, which was completed in 2011, included construction of a bus maintenance, fueling and operational center for Downeast Transportation, the non-profit company that operates the Island Explorer. Phase one also included installation of utilities for the rest of the proposed Gateway Center, construction of the entrance drive and the widening of Route 3 on either side of the entrance. Federal grants covered 78 percent of the $14.8 million cost of phase one; the state paid the rest.