What do Mainers want? They want their roads fixed.
Sometimes it’s so hard not to say “I told you so.” Yet this fall, the Maine Better Transportation Association has to do just that. Command Research conducted a poll in September, asking 500 Maine voters about the condition of Maine’s highways and bridges (see article in Association News section of this issue). The poll also asked what they thought should be done about it.
What the poll found is pretty much what many of us in this industry have known for a long time — that they want their roads fixed, and they don’t just want a quick patch job. They want what Command Research called “substantial and widespread remedies.” As we head into MBTA’s campaign for transportation funding, that’s precisely the kind of marching orders we need. This isn’t one of those spring potholes that get filled with hot patch. “Substantial” and “widespread” call for big ideas. “Remedies” means voters want a cure for what they rightfully see is an ailing highway system that is putting their quality of life and personal safety at risk.
Yes, we need to work with the legislature to deal with the problems at hand — finding the funding Maine needs to repair the failing roads and bridges that were slashed from MaineDOT’s BTIP plan this past year. But we also need to think beyond this legislative session, and even past the next one, to a longterm solution.
As you know, MBTA has contracted with John Melrose and Maine Tomorrow to have them help identify the most effective and feasible funding options that will be a part of Maine’s transportation remedy. Already we have identified several promising “remedies” working in the context of September’s poll results:
Restructuring the gas tax: The idea is to incorporate a sales tax that will be offset by a reduction in the current per-gallon tax. This would tie revenues to increasing fuel costs and help address the falling revenues that are the result of decreasing fuel consumption. An overwhelming 91 percent of voters polled favored this measure.
Apply sales tax on car and truck sales to the Highway Fund. Currently these revenues are directed to the General Fund, but 74 percent of those polled saw this as a good way to fund highway maintenance.
Debt is a good idea, particularly when used to fund long-term capital investment in bridges. Nearly two-thirds of voters (64 percent) favored using debt to fix Maine’s bridges so that the cost of repairs would be shared by current and future users. Interestingly, only 10 percent favored no debt at all. That means many leaders’ concerns about the voter tolerance of debt are unfounded.
What we need to remember, as we work with the legislature and other community leaders toward devising a highway and bridge remedy, is that voters are more savvy and have more common sense than they often get credit for having. They understand how poor highways impact them, and they clearly understand the correlation between user financing and user debt. Keeping that at the core of any remedy that we develop will be critical. September’s poll did tell us what the MBTA’s leadership has believed all along: that reliable, safe and efficient highways and bridges are of great importance to the people of Maine. We don’t have time to say “I told you so,” and frankly, as tempting as it is, it would be counter productive. We need to focus now on making the case for change and bring all of our partners to the table. Only then will we be able to agree upon the “substantial and widespread remedies” that Mainers want.
In closing, I hope to see you at our upcoming Transportation Conference on the 7th of December, and also on the 14th at our Holiday Meeting at the Black Bear Inn. Please remember that our Super Raffle will be drawn on December 14th, with all the proceeds going to the Educational Foundation, making them 100 percent tax-deductible. Tickets are $50 each, and the winner gets a $7,000 vacation.
To purchase your tickets, call the MBTA office at 622-0526.