TRENTON — Now that the money that is available to build the Acadia Gateway Center here has caught up with the ever-increasing cost, construction is expected to start next year and to be completed in 2023.
The Gateway Center is to be a visitor information center and Island Explorer bus terminal, with a parking lot for nearly 500 cars. The idea is that a certain percentage of visitors will leave their cars at the Gateway Center and ride a bus to Mount Desert Island.
With the news a couple of weeks ago that full funding for the project is virtually assured, there is renewed optimism that the park-and-ride facility will reduce congestion in and around Acadia National Park. But some, noting that the Gateway Center is 14 miles from Bar Harbor, remain skeptical that it will do very much good.
David MacDonald, president and CEO of Friends of Acadia, told the Islander it will not be a cure-all, but he is confident it will help.
“Some visitors come for the week and stay on Mount Desert Island, and they’re not going to leave their car at the Gateway Center,” he said. “But others are day trippers. And some stay in Ellsworth and drive down every day. So, while the Gateway Center will not be a fit for all, it will be for some.”
MacDonald noted that both construction of the Gateway Center and the nearly doubling of the parking lot at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center are key parts of Acadia’s transportation plan, which received final National Park Service approval last year.
“We’re going to need all of these strategies working in tandem if we hope to keep pace with how Acadia’s visitation has increased in recent years and how congested the park really could be if that trajectory or anything close to it continues,” he said. “There are just too many cars.”
MacDonald said a lot of visitors have already embraced the idea of parking at Hulls Cove and taking the bus into Acadia and around the island.
“Fifteen years ago, the parking lot there was half empty most days,” he said. “Now, that lot is overflowing because people have seen the advantages of leaving their car somewhere and riding the public transport.
“So, thinking about the different kinds of visitors and giving them choices and deploying multiple strategies is the key to the transportation plan.”
Initially envisioned as serving only MDI and Acadia, the state now sees the Gateway Center as, in MacDonald’s words, “an information center and a jumping– off point for the region, for Downeast Maine.”