The Gateway 1 process, initiated by the Maine Department of Transportation almost six years ago, has been defined as a collaborative effort among 21 towns that lie along Route 1 between Brunswick and Prospect. The goal of Gateway 1 is to plan for land use and transportation and maintain the highway’s important role as a regional arterial and economic lifeline while preserving — and enhancing — the quality of Midcoast life.

In the process, a corridor plan is being created, and there is an effort to implement such a plan across municipal boundaries.

Of the 21 towns along the Route 1 corridor, 17 of them signed a start-up agreement prior to Oct. 31, placing them in line for a share of a $500,000 planning grant from the DOT. More money is promised in the future. In this first phase of planning grants individual towns could get as much as $35,000, and as an incentive for municipal collaboration, towns that work together on a single project are eligible for $50,000.

While Gateway 1 Coordinator Stacy Benjamin calls that incentive a bonus for those communities that work together, the reality is that towns that go it alone might have more money to spend. Unfortunately, the money offered for working collaboratively on a single project may not be enough of an incentive.

As it stands now, various committees within some towns are already angling for that piece of Gateway 1 money. They are not necessarily working with other town committees, let alone looking across municipal borders to identify allies for collaborative projects.

For instance, where are the joint discussions about solutions to relieving congestion, including public transportation and a Midcoast pathway system for alternative and human-powered transportation? Projects such as a commercial fishermen’s hoist or an analysis of available business properties — two current proposals that would attempt to use Gateway 1 money for economic development — shouldn’t meet the requirements for this trunk load of money.

As we look for ways to support the economic and cultural health of the Midcoast, there is a noticeable absence of information on the Gateway 1 Web site about public transportation options. In fact, the only information about public transportation easily found at the DOT Web site lists Bath’s fixed route shuttle bus and the reservations-only Coastal Trans system for the Gateway 1 region.

These ideas are not so foreign anymore, despite our attachment to our own particular vehicles. The Explorer bus system provides public transportation along the southern coast of Maine, as well as in the Carrabassett Valley and Bethel areas, and on Mt. Desert Island.

By linking communities, these buses and trains allow commerce and culture to flow from one part of a region to another, strengthening the activities of all involved.

Two buses a day in each direction between Waldoboro and Belfast, or even between Rockland and Lincolnville, could mobilize our work force and make tourism more robust. There are workers in these towns who do not have transportation and cannot afford a car, but who could pay a bus fare. By providing a safe and economical way for commuters to travel, Midcoast communities would go a long way toward the Gateway 1 goal of “preserv[ing] both the capacity of Route 1 as a regional arterial and economic lifeline and the quality of life in the Midcoast.”