Maine legislation can spur East Coast Greenway development

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Maine Governor Janet Mills recently signed LD 1370 into law with trustee Dick Woodbury and longtime supporter Sue Ellen Bordwell on hand for the ceremony.

By Chloe Yopp // Communications Intern

Maine recently advanced several policies to support greenway and trail development across the state, which can ultimately bring the East Coast Greenway closer to completion in the Pine Tree State.

The legislative effort was led and supported by the Maine Trails Coalition, including East Coast Greenway Alliance Trustee Dick Woodbury, Northern New England Manager Kristine Keeney and other dedicated local advocates.

East Coast Greenway staff members played a significant role in coordinating these initiatives with bill sponsors, collecting relevant data and advocating to accomplish this progress for trails in Maine.

“These legislative efforts are small, but significant steps forward in realizing the vision of the East Coast Greenway in Maine - a safe, connected and accessible statewide multi-use trail network for active transportation and recreation. I’m so proud to have been part of such a meaningful team effort in my home state,” says Keeney.

“This emerging vision of an interconnected statewide trail network will be a new and valuable resource for emission-free commuting, outdoor recreation, public health, community enrichment and tourism,” Woodbury says.

More than 4 percent or nearly $3 billion of Maine’s economy GDP is powered by outdoor recreation, ranking the state within the top five in the country for value added by the outdoor recreation industry according to 2019 state-level data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. With 80 percent of Mainers also wanting more accessible outdoor spaces in their areas, according to a 2020 Muskie School evaluation entitled “Outdoor Recreation, Greenspace, and COVID-19 in Maine,” this is good news for residents and the economy.

LD 1370 was signed into law by Governor Janet Mills on June 15. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Art Bell from Yarmouth, directs the Maine Department of Transportation to develop an active transportation plan for the state. This plan will serve “as a prioritization framework for the development of trails for multimodal uses and other active transportation infrastructure of regional significance.”

This bill also directs MaineDOT to "evaluate reasonable potential uses of state-owned rail corridors over which there are no ongoing rail operations or contracts or agreements providing for operational rights.” In conjunction with a second bill, LD 1133, also signed into law in June, this means that cities and towns will be able to individually or jointly request MaineDOT to evaluate and consider other interim uses, including multi-use trails, for rail corridors that are not currently in use.

LD 1370 was developed to spur the implementation of the Maine Rail Trail Plan 2020-2030, which calls for the construction of 13 specific rail-trail projects over the next decade, and at least five prospective projects for development over the following decade. Collectively, these 18 projects would add roughly 250 miles of inter-connected off-road trails, bringing enormous benefits to the Maine communities they’d serve and getting the state closer to completing the East Coast Greenway.

The bill also provides for the restoration of train use on any of these “trail until rail” corridors if the state determines that train service is in the greater public interest. A 2019 poll, conducted, even before the trail boom during the COVID-19 pandemic, showed that 86 percent of Mainers favor creating multi-use trails on unused rail corridors, if the trails could be converted back to railroad use if needed.

In May, MaineDOT and the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry also came to an official agreement to fully fund the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) for two fiscal years. This means that the grant years of 2022 and 2023 will have nearly $500,000 more in federal funding available to award to trail projects around the state, bringing the total program to $1.4 million annually.

The catalyst for this agreement was the introduction of LD 1396, written by Keeney and sponsored by Rep. Nicole Grohoski from Ellsworth. Prior to the new agreement, the Recreation Trails Program was only being funded at the 65 percent level of available federal funding, making this change a major win for recreational trails in Maine.

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