AUGUSTA – Senator Dawn Hill (D-York County) testified before the Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee in support of legislation that would remove a barrier for a local transit company looking to expand its service to communities affected by the closure of the Memorial Bridge.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Hill, would provide the same tort claims immunity to transit organizations operating in Maine but organized under the laws of another state.

COAST, a New Hampshire-based transportation company, is having difficulty under current Maine law to expand its service in Maine because they are not subject to similar tort claim protections as they are in New Hampshire. Without the protection, the transit business faces insurance issues and is reluctant to expand its services.

“Unfortunately, there are not any public transportation companies from Maine in the area,” said Hill. “However, COAST, which is presently operating in a small area of Maine, has been approached by some of the towns to see if they would expand their service.”

Since the planned shutdown of both the Memorial Bridge and the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, there have been on-going discussions with town and business officials in the region to determine how state and local government can help minimize the impact of the closures.

If the change is passed by the Maine Legislature, COAST plans to expand its public transportation operations to include the towns of Kittery and Eliot, as well as, the shopping outlets and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

“The people and businesses of Kittery and Eliot are already experiencing the negative affect of the Memorial Bridge closure,” said Hill. “This bill will help significantly by improving the accessibility for visitors coming to Maine to shop and work. It will also help Maine residents who travel to New Hampshire to work at Pease International and other locations.”

Hill stressed the economic importance of accessible transportation options in Southern Maine:

  • In 2010, $241 million in taxable sales were generated by Kittery alone;
    • This yielded $12.7 million in sales tax revenue. Additionally, revenue is brought in from personal and corporate income tax, as well as, lodging and restaurant taxes.
    • The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard has greater than 4,000 workers;
      • Approximately half of the workers come in from New Hampshire, generating income tax revenue for Maine.

Hill added, “The bridge may be closed, but the region is still open for business. And, this bill will help us stay that way.”

Others who testified in support of the bill included: Gerry Mylroie, Kittery’s Town Planner and Rad Nichols, COAST’s Executive Director.

No one spoke against the legislation.

A work session on the bill is scheduled for Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 1:30 p.m. in the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.