Awarded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Maine Dept. of Transportation will use $28 million to build a hybrid-electric ferry, and nearly $5 million to improve and support the Maine State Ferry Service
Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) today announced $33 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) funding to support, improve, and modernize passenger ferry service in Maine. The funding was awarded to the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) through the Federal Transit Administration’s new Ferry Programs established under the BIL to support passenger ferry systems as they transition to climate-friendly technologies.
The Margaret Chase Smith Ferry Project will receive a $28 million Electric or Low-Emitting Ferry Pilot Program grant to build a hybrid-electric vessel to replace a 35-year-old vessel that has exceeded its useful life. This new hybrid-electric vessel will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote environmental sustainability for the roughly 600 residents of the island of Islesboro, a rural community in upper Penobscot Bay that relies on passenger ferry service.
In addition, MaineDOT was awarded $4,991,474 through the newly-established Ferry Service for Rural Communities Program to improve and support the Maine State Ferry Service (MSFS). The funding will support MaineDOT staffing, maintenance, and customer communication in efforts to maintain and enhance service reliability in the face of increasing operating costs. In addition, as MaineDOT adds cleaner vessels—such as hybrid-electric vessels—to its fleet, the federal funding will support cleaner, reduced emissions transportation for customers, the island and mainland communities, and the surrounding areas.
Collins and Pingree co-signed letters of support for the MaineDOT projects.
“Maine’s ferries are indispensable to those who live and work in our island communities, providing passenger, freight, and postal services and transporting students to school and people to their jobs,” said Collins. “As the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and a member of the core group of 10 Senators who authored the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, I have strongly advocated for funding to ensure that residents and visitors can continue to access safe and reliable ferry service to the island communities along Maine’s coast. By improving recruitment and retainment efforts for vessel crews and implementing an environmentally friendly engine technology, these investments will enhance the future of ferry service.”
“Maine’s year-round island communities are a vital part of our state’s history, culture, and economy, and the ferries that serve them are critical and in need of modernization. As we electrify our auto and trucking fleet and expand our network of charging stations throughout the state, ferries are a natural extension of that evolution and shouldn’t be left behind,” said Pingree. “This funding will not only maintain vital ferry service but will also make operations more reliable and climate friendly as we build a more sustainable future.”
“We are extremely grateful that Maine will be receiving nearly $33 million in federal funding through the Ferry Service for Rural Communities and Electric or Low-Emitting Ferry Pilot Programs,” said MaineDOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note. “These funds will be integral in constructing a new hybrid-electric ferry to replace a 35-year-old vessel that currently serves the community of Islesboro. This federal support will also help with the overall operational costs of the Maine State Ferry Service, which provides critical connections that support economic opportunity and quality of life in our island communities. We thank both Senator Collins and Congresswoman Pingree for their leadership and continued support of transportation in Maine.”
As one of the six island communities that the MSFS serves, the Margaret Chase Smith Islesboro route is the most traveled, serving roughly 600 year-round residents. The route carried over 180,000 walk-on passengers and over 73,000 vehicles in 2019 alone. Pingree lives on North Haven, another of the unbridged islands the MaineDOT’s MSFS operates regular ferry service for. These small, rural communities, which have year-round populations between 30 and 1,300 people, rely on MSFS for access to jobs, services, goods, and medical treatment.
The announcement follows a February 2022 push by Pingree to ensure rural island community ferry services can access historic funding made possible through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress in 2021, which invests over $2 billion in ferry-specific funding, including $1 billion for the Ferry Service for Rural Communities Program. This program makes federal resources available to states to ensure basic essential ferry service is provided to rural areas.