Maine is set to receive millions of more dollars in federal funding to continue making eco-friendly changes to the Lincolnville and Isleboro ferry terminals.
A $7.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Ferry Service for Rural Communities Grant Program has been awarded to the Maine Department of Transportation (Maine DOT) for the purpose of upgrading and updating the terminals.
This money comes in addition to a $33 million federal grant received by the Maine DOT in January for the same project.
Current estimates suggest that each year, roughly 180,000 passengers use this route to travel between the island of Isleboro and the mainland town of Lincolnville.
Currently, the Maine DOT is in the process of upgrading this route — the most-used of Maine’s six island-mainland ferry routes — to be more environmentally friendly, as well as to support a higher volume of passengers on a daily basis.
The central aspect of this project is the replacement of the route’s current vessel — which has been in operation for 35 years — with a new, plug-in hybrid-electric ferry.
According to documents from the Maine DOT, this new eco-friendly vessel would operate on a battery-powered propulsion system and would be equipped with a diesel backup.
The new ferry would also be larger than that which is currently in operation in order to better accommodate current and future demand on this route.
The Maine DOT also explained that this project would also entail several upgrades to the ferry terminals themselves — including extra docking space for the loading and unloading of passengers, as well as charging infrastructure to keep the ferry running throughout the day.
In a press release announcing the new funding, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) — Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee — said that the goal of the grant is to “better meet [the terminal’s] current and anticipated future demand.”
“The Lincolnville Ferry Terminal plays a crucial role in the daily lives of local residents and businesses alike, providing freight and postal services while transporting students to school and people to their jobs,” Sen. Collins said in the press release. “This investment will help to ensure safe and reliable transportation service for the estimated 180,000 passengers that travel to and from Islesboro every year.
“As Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will continue to advocate for programs that contribute to the economic development, tourism, and overall connectivity of rural communities throughout Maine,” Collins stated.
Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) also issued a press release concerning the new federal funding.
“Ensuring that Maine’s island communities are well connected to the mainland is essential,” the representatives said. “These funds will help modernize and improve the ferry service that acts as a vital link between Islesboro and the surrounding mainland area.”
This shift toward electric-first ferry transportation comes amidst a push from the Maine Board of Environmental Protection (Maine BEP) to implement new California-style vehicle emissions standards requiring the vast majority of new car sales to be zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) by model year 2032.
While the majority of the January funding from the federal government was to be dedicated to the purchase of the hybrid-electric ferry itself, the newest grant is primarily going to be used for the planned terminal upgrades to accommodate the new vessel.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) describes the January grant as covering the cost of purchasing the new hybrid-electric ferry and the November grant as funding efforts to “modernize two rural ferry terminals originally built in 1959,” including by “provid[ing] the infrastructure needed to support the safe and efficient operation of a new hybrid electric vessel.”
In total, $35.1 million of federal funding has gone towards this project to date. The remaining $5 million from the January grant was allocated to help “maintain and operate the Maine State Ferry Service.”
The Margaret Chase Smith Isleboro Route — serving Isleboro’s approximately 600 year-round residents — is the most traveled of the Maine State Ferry Service’s (MSFS) six island-mainland routes, as it serves Isleboro’s 600 year-round residents.
The route’s new hybrid vessel is expected to be ready for operation by 2027.