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Southern Maine transit agencies break impasse on $8M of additional federal funds

A months-long stalemate over southern Maine transit funding has ended.

The distribution of $8 million in extra federal funding was held up last spring when several transit agencies balked at signing a so-called "split letter."

The agencies — South Portland Bus Service, Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach Transit, Casco Bay Island Transit District and Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority — objected that they had not had enough input into how the money would be used. The money is coming to the region from the federal, American Rescue Plan, enacted in 2021.

At a meeting Thursday of the Portland Area Comprehensive Transit System (PACTS) Policy Board, it was announced that, after months of negotiations over PACTS procedures, all of the transit agencies involved had agreed to the "split letter" that was needed to free up the federal funds.

Most of the money will go to Greater Portland Metro, the South Portland Bus Service, and Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Transit. Metro wants to revamp its routes and all of bus operators are considering a period of lowered fares in a bid to get more people to ride transit.

One PACTS policy board member said at the policy board meeting Thursday it's not clear how soon any of that can happen. A lingering issue about representation on that PACTS committee is to be addressed later.