Maine Trails, Apr - May '07
Inside Cover
President’s Message
Cover Story: Leading the Way
Conversations with the leadership

Conversations with the leadership

For this issue, Maine Trails talked with the leadership on the Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Transportation: co-chairs Senator Dennis Damon and Representative Boyd Marley and minority leadership Senator Christine Savage and Representative William Browne. Each of them brings a unique perspective to the job, but they all share a common commitment to ensuring the safety and efficiency of Maine's transportation infrastructure.

Sen. Dennis Damon (D-Hancock County)
Senator Dennis Damon was born in Bar Harbor, studied education and played football at the University of Maine. He has worked, in typical Maine fashion, at many careers: as a schoolteacher, coach, entrepreneur and small business owner, as well as a fourth generation commercial fisherman. As a coach, he was named Maine high school "Baseball Coach of the Year." And as a teacher, he developed and taught a course called "The MaineFisherman." He and his wife Bonnie have three children.

How long have you served on the Transportation Committee?

This is my third term, my fifth year on Transportation and my third year as senate chair.

Do you serve on other committees?

I'm also on Marine Resources. I've been on it for five years and chair for all of that time. [Editor's Note: Senator Damon is the only senator currently chairing two standing committees.]

Why did you want this committee assignment?

As I recall, my first year I listed six committees I was interested in. Before being elected, I had been a county commissioner in Hancock County and was familiar with the issues surrounding transportation. I like it because typically transportation is a non-partisan issue. It transcends party lines.

What is the one thing that you would like to see changed/enacted/achieved regarding Maine's transportation system during your term?

LD 1790, "An Act to Secure Maine's Transportation Future." It's a bill I am sponsoring. It defines the need, sets a course of action, establishes a timetable and provides funding to achieve its goals. There's also accountability and the potential for doubling the funding available to fix our highways and bridges. This is the time to enact it. The Highway Fund as it is now is not sustainable. The inflationary pressures are too great and level of funding is only going to decrease as vehicles become more fuel-efficient.

What will be the biggest challenge to achieving that?

There are some issues as the bill was originally drafted, but we are working on that. We're looking at replacing the use of excise tax funds and replacing them with URIP funds [the Urban-Rural Initiative Program for capital highway improvements]. And getting support for a portion of the sales tax from the sales of cars and trucks is going to be a challenge, because right now that money is all going into the General Fund and using it for highways and bridges will cause a hole. But when you talk about the positive aspects of the bill, the feeling is that this is a good and favorable thing. We just need to educate people about the importance of having a long-term sustainable solution and what the consequences are if we don't do something. We have 288 bridges well past their anticipated lifespan, and our roads are getting further and further into disrepair. People have to understand how expensive it is going to be to fix them.

How would you describe the state of transportation in Maine today?

The first thing that comes to mind is that we have a tremendous need. The state's highways and bridges are in dire need of repair. And rebuilding them - along with supporting education and having a strong energy and sound tax policy - that is at the heart of building a brighter future for Maine.

If you had the ability to change one aspect of Maine's transportation system with the wave of a wand, what would it be?

To create a more sustainable funding model for taking care of our transportation system.

How many vehicles with wheels do you and your family own (including automobiles, trucks, bikes, ATVs, snowmobiles, RVs, etc.)?

I sold my motorcycle, so four. My wife's car is a '02 Hyundai. I drive a '99 Chrysler LHS. My son has a '96 Ford pickup and my daughter drives the old family van - a '95 Plymouth.

How do you get to Boston?

I fly, I drive, I take the bus and/or I take the train. I use whichever mode suits my travel needs best. I find it helpful to have a choice.

In your daily travels, what is the worst road you travel on? What's the best?

The best and worst is Route 3 from Trenton to Augusta. Parts of it have been "built" so that they are up to modern standards. Other parts are in real need of repair. Some stretches between Belfast and Augusta are not in very good condition.

Do you have a favorite scenic route?

For the sheer beauty of it, Ocean Drive in Acadia National Park. Keep in mind that's not a state road, it's a park road.

Do you have a vision of what transportation in Maine will look like in 20 years?

I'd like to see that our present road and bridge system was built to acceptable standards. Also that we have an improved network for moving information like we move cars and trucks on I-95. An "IT-95," so to speak.

Do you realize that we have the capacity to link up to double-stacked rail facilities through the ports so that goods shipped to and from Europe and North America could reach their destination faster?

They'd save a day if the ships docked in Maine rather than Norfolk, Virginia. Time is important in shipping, and if we made the investment, we could be a part of that.

What is your position on LD 1790? Why?

It is the single most important transportation legislation in the past 50 years, and it ought to pass. It's sustainable. It gives a clear vision. And it provides the means for getting it done.

Rep. Boyd Marley (D-Portland)
Representative Boyd Marley was born in Westbrook, studied criminology at the University of Southern Maine and now works as a special education teacher in South Portland. In addition to transportation, he is concerned about health care costs, escalating college tuition fees, affordable housing and toxic chemicals in the environment. In running for office, he believes in collecting many small contributions rather than a few big ones. He and his wife Anne have two children.

How long have you served on the Transportation Committee?

This is my fourth term on the Transportation Committee and my seventh year in the Legislature.

Do you serve on other committees?

No.

Why did you want this committee assignment?

When I first asked for committee assignments, I said any committee except Education. As a public school teacher, I wanted something different. Transportation seemed like a good fit given the makeup of my district in the city of Portland. There's significant transportation infrastructure represented there - an airport, transit, ferry service, both freight & passenger rail and the interstate. It's such a bipartisan committee, it seemed a good fit for my personality.

What is the one thing that you would like to see changed/enacted/achieved regarding Maine's transportation system during your term?

Passage of LD 1790, "An Act to Secure Maine's Transportation Future." For the past few years, it's been easy for the Legislature as a whole to overlook what's been happening in transportation, but on the committee we've seen it coming. The decline of the gas tax revenues and increase in the cost of construction materials has caught a lot of people off guard, and now it's got everybody's attention.

The best thing we can do for Maine now is to find new monies to make the investment in transportation and all the jobs that will bring. We've got communities that have been waiting for years for projects, knowing that they have businesses ready to invest and hire people once their road gets fixed. We need to make those investments.

Also, it's a very balanced bill with 10 percent going to alternative modes. That's important. Because even though funding for roads and bridges represent a lion's share of the funding, you still need to provide dependable transportation for the elderly and disabled and access to the islands.

What will be the biggest challenge to achieving that?

The impact on the General Fund budget will be the toughest piece of the legislation. But when you look at it, you see we can do this in a reasonable fashion.

How would you describe the state of transportation in Maine today?

Transportation in this state and nationally is in a crisis. We have underinvested in everything - roads, bridges, freight railways, bus and ferries. Recently, 63 of 64 winter residents of Isle au Haut came to talk to us about the great need for ferry service (their "highway"). We need to invest in the integrity of the entire system and take care of what we have. Then we can start to talk about new investments.

If you had the ability to change one aspect of Maine's transportation system with the wave of a wand, what would it be?

I think it would be the funding piece - making it more sustainable so we can make investment decisions in a more thoughtful manner rather than robbing Peter to pay Paul. We can't even keep shoring up the system while the pie keeps getting smaller. We need to grow the pie.

How many vehicles with wheels do you and your family own (including automobiles, trucks, bikes, ATVs, snowmobiles, RVs, etc.)?

Two cars, four bicycles and a couple of scooters. My wife drives a Chevy HHR van, and I drive a Ford Focus.

How do you get to Boston?

Generally, I take the train to Boston and to D.C., too. Driving isn't worth the hassle once you factor in congestion, tolls, parking costs, etc. The Downeaster takes you right down town and I can catch the T anywhere I need to go.

In your daily travels, what is the worst road you travel on? What's the best?

In terms of condition and traffic congestion? A number of my neighborhood streets are in need of repair. But I'd say the worst is I-295 from Washington Avenue to Forest Avenue in Portland. I take it from my home to my teaching job in South Portland. The congestion is so bad that sometimes the traffic backs up onto the highway, creating the potential for high speed crashes on the Interstate.

The best road I typically travel on? I-295 north of Portland. There is less congestion, because I am driving against the traffic pattern. I'm driving north toward Augusta, while the majority of the traffic is heading into Portland.

Do you have a favorite scenic route?

Route 302 to my parents' camp on Sebago Lake. There's this piece where you can see the lake through the trees. I've been going there my whole life.

Do you have a vision of what transportation in Maine will look like in 20 years?

I like how Rep. Cebra puts it: "When you look at the transportation system from 3,000 feet, what do you see?" In LD 1790, we set out specific goals and then we say how we're going to take care of our transportation system and how we're going to grow it. In 20 years, I see a system that's safer and that can move more people and more freight efficiently. It's a balanced system, that supports the needs of rural and urban Mainers.

What is your position on LD 1790? Why?

I absolutely support LD 1790, because it's a thoughtful approach to adding funding. It lays out goals and sets a timetable and has public accountability, so we can see how well we are doing.

Sen. Christine Savage (R-Knox County)
Senator Christine Savage went to Union High School and worked 16 years in the Camden town office, including a year as acting town manager. She also served as Warren town manager for five, and has since retired. She has been a strong supporter in her party and in the Legislature as a whole for stepped up investment in Maine's transportation infrastructure. She is keenly involved in the issue of transportation safety and is an advocate for mandatory seat belt use. Sen. Savage is the longest running member of Transportation currently serving on the Transportation Committee. She has four children and six grandchildren.

How long have you served on the Transportation Committee?

This will be my 11th year.

Do you serve on other committees?

No others currently. During my first term, I served on State and Local Government, but the next term, the Republican leadership asked if I would serve on Transportation. I had been the town manager in Warren and their part-time road commissioner.

Why did you want this committee assignment?

It's not partisan. We're all working toward the same result. Some may have a different idea of how to get there, but we all want the same thing.

What is the one thing that you would like to see changed/enacted/ achieved regarding Maine's transportation system during your term?

The one thing I'd like to accomplish is to find a long-range funding solution to the transportation system.

What will be the biggest challenge to achieving that?

I've always felt that we've needed to have access to a portion of the state sales tax on automobiles and trucks for highways and bridges. The challenge will be working with Appropriations, and they have challenges of their own, so that hold on sales tax revenues will be a challenge.

Also I think we need to take a serious look at the OPEGA findings for State Police funding. [Editor's Note: In February 2007, the Office of Program Evaluation & Government Accountability released its findings that the Highway Fund was overpaying by $13.5-$20 million per year for Maine State Police operations.]

How would you describe the state of transportation in Maine today?

Without a good transportation system, we're not going to impact the economic status of the state. Every industry that would look to locate in Maine is not going to be attracted if we don't have good roads and highways to get their products to market.

If you had the ability to change one aspect of Maine's transportation system with the wave of a wand, what would it be?

The funding source. We need an adequate and stable funding source. We've already got good people, but we need the funds so they can do their job of keeping the highways and bridges safe.

How many vehicles with wheels do you and your family own (including automobiles, trucks, bikes, ATVs, snowmobiles, RVs, etc.)?

A 2005 Legacy Outback with four-wheel drive and a 1995 Toyota Tacoma truck. I live on a dead end and my old front-wheel drive Toyota would get stuck and I had to call my son.

How do you get to Boston?

I like the train from Portland if I'm going to a show, but to do shopping we take the car with a couple extra people. My daughter who has lived in the Boston area does the driving and knows where to park.

In your daily travels, what is the worst road you travel on? What's the best?

The worst is my own road where I live. The best? Route 17 is not a bad road. They take good care of it in the winter weather. But that last mile I have to drive to my house, that's the worst.

Do you have a favorite scenic route?

Appleton Ridge Road and the road up Mount Battie in Camden. And I like the drive down Spruce Head [Routes 131 and 73]. I don't have to go far. These are all within 25 miles. This summer, I'll be doing a lot more traveling around Maine with a friend who will be visiting.

Do you have a vision of what transportation in Maine will look like in 20 years?

There's a big effort to push trains, and I'm not sure a passenger train would pay for itself. I like to go to Portland and take the train to Boston, but I don't see it supporting itself. I would like to see freight move more on rail. It would relieve congestion on the roads.

What is your position on LD 1790? Why?

I really haven't taken a position. It's got possibilities, and I don't know if there will be any other proposals to replace it or add to it. I don't think we're quite ready for it to go into effect. I think we've got to address the challenges. The need for money is so great, and it will require deciding whether what we have goes to health and human services or education or our highways and bridges. But we have to do something, so that people can know that these roads that haven't been rebuilt in 50 years are going to get fixed.

Rep. William Browne (R-Vassalboro)
Representative William Browne is a farmer and former chemistry teacher with 37 years at Waterville High School. Retirement hasn't slowed him down. In addition to running the family farm with his wife, he now spends his time thinking about the intricacies of red tape, among other things. Browne earned a bachelor of science in agriculture from the University of Southern Maine, and a master of science in education from the University of Utah. He and his wife Carolyn, have two children and three grandchildren.

How long have you served on the Transportation Committee?

This is my third term and fifth year on Transportation

Do you serve on other committees?

No, but last year I served one year on State and Local Government.

Why did you want this committee assignment?

Looking at all the committees, I was most interested in transportation and agriculture. Transportation is a good committee because it is so non-partisan. If anything, issues can be more regional than they are partisan.

What is the one thing that you would like to see changed/enacted/achieved regarding Maine's transportation system during your term?

If we can get a sustainable funding resource, that's what it would be. I feel like we're on the right track with LD 1790, "An Act to Secure Maine's Transportation Future." We need a sustainable source of funding for our transportation system. We just can't meet the need unless there is an increase in funding. Senator Damon's bill is a step in the right direction.

What will be the biggest challenge to achieving that?

The General Fund needs money - in my opinion we're been spending beyond our means - and it will be difficult to shift any of those funds to transportation. When the bill goes to Appropriations, that will be the challenge - balancing General Fund needs with transportation.

How would you describe the state of transportation in Maine today?

By all accounts, our transportation system needs attention. Our bridges are old and in need of repair. This year, we're posting more roads than we did last year. In my district, a lot of roads need resurfacing or to be rebuilt. That's true all over the state.

If you had the ability to change one aspect of Maine's transportation system with the wave of a wand, what would it be?

It would be making connections: connecting the ports of Searsport and Mack Point by rail so our paper plants can ship their products more efficiently; connecting Amtrak to Rockland and beyond; adding capacity with the East-West Highway and the interstate north to Aroostook County; and increasing the weight limits on the interstate, so we can reduce the wear and tear on local highways. But rail service, both freight and passenger, seems to be the wave of the future.

How many vehicles with wheels do you and your family own (including automobiles, trucks, bikes, ATVs, snowmobiles, RVs, etc.)?

I drive a '05 GMAC pick-up. My wife drives a '05 Volvo, and we both have bikes.

How do you get to Boston?

When we do go to Boston, we drive.

In your daily travels, what is the worst road you travel on? What's the best?

I'm lucky that most of my travel is on a section of Route 201 between Vassalboro and Augusta, and that's in pretty good shape. The worst road is Webber Pond Road in Vassalboro. It's in pretty bad shape. It's a state-aid road, and it's on the planning list to be rebuilt.

Do you have a favorite scenic route?

We drive down through the countryside around Dresden then on Routes 130 and 32 to Pemaquid Point. If we have guests in town, we stop at Round Pond for lobster.

Do you have a vision of what transportation in Maine will look like in 20 years?

The population is moving out of urban centers. With computers and the internet, they are discovering that you don't have to live in a city. That's going to make our rural roadways a lot more crowded, and we need to work on a good plan to be ready. We need to take care of our roads and provide alternate means - mass transportation like trains and public buses to keep the economy growing.

What is your position on LD 1790? Why?

I'm very much in favor of it. Right now, we can fund only about 70 percent of what needs to be done to maintain our highways and bridges. I like that this bill calls for dedicating the funds to roads and bridges. There's more work to be done, though, and maybe we need bring up the gas tax. I like the idea of the people who use the roads paying for their wear and tear.

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Cover Story: Leading the Way  | Page 4 of 4 | Conversations with the leadership