TRENTON — The funding package for the visitor information center and Island Explorer bus system hub at the Acadia Gateway Center here is almost wrapped up, and construction is expected to start this coming spring or summer.
The Maine Department of Transportation currently has $19 million in federal, state and private funds for the project, which is estimated to cost $23 million. The National Park Service is to provide the remaining $4 million.
Those funds will be coming from the park service’s Centennial Challenge Fund, which Congress established in 2016 to mark the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service. Each year, some of the money that national parks collect from the sale of entrance passes goes into the Centennial Challenge Fund to help pay for projects approved by the Secretary of the Interior.
Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said he expects the final $4 million in federal funds to be transferred to the state within the next couple of months.
“Then the state can move forward with awarding the construction contract,” he said.
Construction is expected to take about two years, so it is possible the visitor center and transportation hub could be completed in time for at least some of the 2024 tourist season.
The visitor center will be staffed jointly by Acadia personnel and the Maine Office of Tourism to provide information about the park and the Downeast region and to sell Acadia entrance passes.
Visitors will be able to park their cars for free in a lot with nearly 500 spaces and take the Island Explorer buses into the park and to the towns on Mount Desert Island. The expectation is that a certain percentage of visitors will leave their cars at the Gateway Center, which is 14 miles from Bar Harbor, thus reducing traffic congestion and parking shortages on the island and, especially, in Acadia.
Construction of the visitor center and transportation hub will be Phase 2 of the Gateway Center project. Phase 1, completed in 2012, included construction of a bus maintenance garage and fueling station and a park-and-ride lot.