Every five years, we get a glimpse at the newest vision for Southern Maine’s transportation future when the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS) updates its long-range transportation plan. This year’s iteration, Connect 2045, arrives during an exciting time of major investment in transportation innovation from the state and federal level.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act contain unprecedented levels of federal funding for climate and clean energy initiatives, including major investments in electric vehicles, public transit, and infrastructure for walking and biking.
At the same time, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) is also in the process of creating its own statewide long-range transportation plan, which includes a Statewide Strategic Transit Plan and a Statewide Active Transportation Plan. It is clearer than ever that Maine is prepared to revamp its approach to transportation by providing greater access to people who use our transportation system in all kinds of ways, reducing tailpipe emissions in the process.
The Connect 2045 Plan will help guide decision-making in the Portland region for where we make investments and why. The plan sets guidelines for Maine’s most densely developed area, with the 18 municipalities covered comprising more than 20 percent of the state’s population.
A draft of the Connect 2045 Long-Range Transportation Plan is now available for public review and comment through November 20. The PACTS team has already included several public engagement opportunities as the draft plan was created, and this will be the last opportunity to make your voice heard before the plan is finalized.
The full plan is extensive, so we’ve pulled out a few pieces to highlight:
- Connect 2045 is guided by three overarching principles provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation: tackling the climate crisis, ensuring equity by directing 40% of all funding to underserved communities, and focusing on a “Complete Streets” design that ensures access and safety for all users.
- The plan acknowledges that the transportation sector is the leading contributor to climate change in Maine. It identifies strategies to both reduce the total miles vehicles travel in the region and to electrify our transportation system so we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
- The plan encourages a shift away from a focus on personal vehicles and toward communities connected by public transit and safe trails and sidewalks for people who walk and bike. By improving village centers, increasing transit frequency, and investing in active transportation, the plan aims to reduce suburban sprawl and provide more ways for people to get around the region safely without negatively impacting the environment and public health.
- Safety is a major priority for the region. 2021 was the most dangerous year for pedestrians in Maine, and the “Vision zero” element of this plan outlines an approach to eliminate traffic fatalities completely by reducing vehicle speeds and improving pedestrian safety.
- The plan includes six explicit goals based on feedback from residents in the region: Provide Equitable Access, Expand Choices, Support Great Places, Protect the Environment, Improve Safety, and Optimize Infrastructure.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine believes the components of this plan and the vision outlined by the PACTS team align with our vision of Maine’s transportation future. Connect 2045 recognizes that our transportation system is about getting people, not cars, to where they need to go, and promotes a shift toward active transportation and public transit to reduce emissions. The plan rightfully centers safety, equity, and climate action over moving personal vehicles quickly through the region, which is a refreshing perspective in a car-dependent state like Maine.
As with any plan proposing transformational change, there are questions about how these changes will be funded and prioritized. The plan acknowledges that the region’s needs exceed available funding. This perennial concern underscores the need to think differently about transportation investments.
As the plan notes, our transportation system has been overbuilt and centered around car traffic at the expense of other more people-centered alternatives. With once-in-a-generation new funding available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, the region, and Maine as a whole, has an opportunity to fully leverage resources specifically aimed at climate, safety, and equity to shift toward a more sustainable transportation system.
Please join us in applauding the PACTS team for providing a hopeful vision of a safer, healthier, more connected Portland region while encouraging them to ensure that the elements of the plan that include public transit and biking and walking infrastructure are fully funded as soon as possible.
—Josh Caldwell, NRCM Climate & Clean Energy Outreach Coordinator