A big year ahead: Some New Year’s resolutions for transportation in Maine. By Scott Leach
We need a ‘paradigm shift’: The Maine Turnpike Authority’s Paul Violette talks about leadership, change and the future of tolling in Maine. By Kathryn Buxton
Postcard appeal: Heritage, engineering of Maine’s covered bridges continue to impress. By Douglas Rooks
Cleared for take-off: Bangor International Airport builds public-private partnerships and nurtures the market for the region’s travelers. By Kathryn Buxton
A big year ahead
By Scott Leach
A new year has arrived, and the urge to make resolutions and set goals has me looking ahead to what our organization should set our sights on achieving in 2007.
Luckily, I didn’t have to look far. This past year, Maine Better Transportation Association’s Strategic Planning Committee gave us an excellent blueprint for the New Year (and the next few years to come). I have taken the liberty of using the goals and strategies established in the plan to create a few New Year’s resolutions for the MBTA as we work to increase investment in Maine’s highways and bridges.
1. We will make new friends.
One of the key strategies of the MBTA’s strategic plan is to identify partner groups and organizations that share common goals and reach out to them to form strategic alliances. Already, the MBTA has begun this process and we have more than 40 local and regional groups that have pledged their support. This is a diverse group of friends. Some are interested in safety. Others in economic growth and preserving the excellent quality of life we enjoy here in Maine. We all recognize that strength of numbers will help us achieve our transportation investment goals.
2. We will do our homework.
Our Strategic Plan calls for more research to increase our base of funding knowledge. It makes sense because, as the old adage goes, “knowledge is power.” Unfortunately all of the research in the world won’t do any good if none of us do our homework and become familiar with the facts, so we can begin to use this information every day to make the case for increasing transportation infrastructure funding in Maine. So this year, please watch for and read as much of the MBTA mail that comes across your desk as possible — legislative e-mail and fax alerts, Maine Trails and other MBTA publications that will keep you up-to-date on the issues.
3. We will be more active.
Yes, it would be great if you went to the gym more often in 2007. But I also am hoping you will become more active in the MBTA and join other members at events in your community and throughout the state. This past fall, the board of directors began co-sponsoring a series of legislative briefings. We have invited community, business and government leaders to share in a dialogue about the importance of increasing Maine’s investment in our transportation infrastructure. The briefings we have held in Caribou and Bangor have been successful, and we plan on holding more events like them. I hope you will take the time to let your legislators know our transportation funding priorities. It is a great chance to meet new people (see Resolution 1) and get up to speed on the MBTA’s efforts to make transportation infrastructure funding a public priority in the years to come (see Resolution 2). I hope to see you at many other MBTA events this year – including our golf tournament, convention and quarterly meetings. To find out what events are coming up, you can visit www.mbtaonline.org.
Finally, I would like to extend my gratitude to all the individual and corporate members who have done so much to support the MBTA in 2006. We faced many challenges, and we made progress in many areas critical to our mission of promoting safe, reliable and efficient transportation infrastructure in Maine. The Educational Foundation’s Super Raffle raised $17,000. Our auctions and July golf tournament added $60,000 to the Infrastructure Fund. The annual MBTA Convention in Bar Harbor was a success. The Membership Committee worked hard in 2006 and is working even harder to reach their goal this year. Our legislative committee helped shape our agenda and the strategic planning process has given us a strong five-year plan, as has our communications committee. I look forward to seeing and working with you all in 2007.
Last of all, I would like to thank Joe Rollins for all of his contributions to the MBTA over the years, especially for his tireless work on our annual golf tournaments that with his leadership and with the convention fundraising have helped raise over $300,000 for the Infrastructure Fund. Joe has retired from The Lane Construction Corporation, but we all hope to see him on the golf course and at other MBTA gatherings in the future.
Cover Story: We need a ‘paradigm shift’
A conversation with the Maine Turnpike Authority’s Paul Violette about the lack of funding for state highways and bridges, the politics of change, leadership and the future of tolling in Maine.
Maine Trails: Maine built its first modern highway as a user fee highway. What was so different about Maine when the Turnpike Authority was founded in the 1940s and how we view transportation infrastructure and its funding today?
Violette: Back when the Turnpike was built, there were no other options. There was no federal money. There was no Interstate system. The sum total of the state’s budget was something like $50 million, and they were proposing to build a $20 million road. They had to pursue something novel.
Today, our interstate system needs to be fixed, but it’s not falling down yet. It’s like when the paint is peeling on the house and the roof is getting old. You need to do something, but there’s not the sense of urgency. Our highways are like that, we need to fix them and soon, but people don’t feel the urgency they did when the Turnpike and the interstate system was first built. Also, the state government’s role in education, housing, safety, justice and health were fundamentally different then. State government then really was focused on highways and bridges. The Department of Transportation at that point was a major part of the entire state budget, and over the years, things have changed and more of the financial burden for other areas has been shifted to the states, so transportation is not the priority it used to be.
Maine Trails: What’s the biggest danger inherent in that shift in governmental priorities?
Violette: Our transportation system is deteriorating, and people are taking it for granted. And when it finally falls apart — and the time will come — the cost will be exorbitant as compared to what it would be if we were taking care of it right now. So far there are only a few politicians, such as Senator Dennis Damon, who have had the courage to stand up and tell the truth, to say that this vital lifeline for our state, our highway infrastructure, is crumbling and we need to do something about it.
Maine Trails: What will it take to get the state to make highways and bridges a priority? Is it a matter of public education? What will turn the tide?
Violette: It requires a paradigm shift. It does require education, but in the context of education, we as an industry have to get more strident. I think the MBTA has started this. Their most recent transportation report [Losing Ground] has gotten much better about talking about the problems and asking how we do something about this? But it’s also how we market this information. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Maine Trails: The Maine Turnpike Authority was part of the Governor’s Capital Transportation Funding Working Group, and the report that the group released at the beginning of 2006 addressed many of these longer term funding issues in the context of the current funding shortfall. Is this the kind of challenge and change you mean?
Violette: At the beginning of the year with the Governor’s Task Force, we began to get everyone engaged and pushing all the different groups to have a discussion for the need to change. But I believe, it has to go farther and become part of the political discussion. Some state leaders have been very courageous and recognize that we need to change how we do things.
But that awareness has to grow and it’s going to take courage on the part of our leaders. You need to do what’s right for transportation not just what your party says. Senator Christine Savage (Knox), she understands it. She supported indexing, and she supported bonding in this last session. She’s been willing to take the political risk to make sure our roads are safe. That’s real leadership.
Maine Trails: But we have these highways and bridges that are so important to our economy and quality of life, and there clearly isn’t enough existing federal and state money to fix them. Does tolling have a place in helping the state address those needs?
Violette: We’ve tried at the Maine Turnpike to introduce the element of tolling in the state’s transportation policy when it comes to building anything new or if there’s a need to replace a substantial investment. That hasn’t happened yet. Tolls could provide at least part of the solution, but it will take some very courageous politicians to open that door. It won’t be easy to toll a part of the interstate that’s never been tolled before — even though we’ve polled on the issue and a vast majority of Maine people have said that was the fairest way. I think people understand that if you use it you pay and if you don’t use it you don’t pay. You use it more, you pay more — they understand that.
Maine Trails: There is a national movement toward the expanded use of tolling. What will it take to get tolling as a funding option on the table in Maine?
Violette: I am encouraged there’s more interest in looking at tolls on the national level, and I fully expect that the next version of the federal funding bill will be even more permissive about allowing tolling on the Interstate. That is the only prohibition right now. So we could put tolls today between Brunswick and Bath on the access controlled Route 1 — there’s nothing to say we can’t do that. On the Interstate, it’s much more problematic.
So the notion that the Maine Legislature had three or four years ago to help MaineDOT out by building a toll plaza and having the Turnpike take over the Interstate up to Waterville from Augusta. That’s a great idea. We would champion that, and we’ve talked to the administration and the department about this. But we just can’t turn around on a dime. There’s a prohibition, and that prohibition needs to be dealt with.
Maine Trails: What’s the next step?
Violette: I think Congress and the Department of Transportation at the federal level would be looking for a state to act as a demonstration project. If a state like Maine was willing to lead the way, I think there would be the support on the federal level. Of course, it doesn’t mean Maine would have to do it, it just means that if we want to, we can legally explore it. Right now, when we talk about these things, we can’t do them.
So I say, why not talk to our Congressional delegation about retaining one of those demonstration slots, say if we need to add capacity to a non-tolled Interstate or for a major rehabilitation project? We could choose a project that would be difficult to fund, say if we need to widen the Interstate from Portland to Brunswick or to do a major reconstruction, like between Brunswick and Gardiner — we will have to take all those concrete slabs up at some point.
But now, as it stands, you can’t toll a piece of existing Interstate unless you are one of these demonstration projects. The current law only allows a handful of them, and even then only for very specific purposes: to finance new construction and rehabilitation, to promote efficiency in the use of highways and to support congestion reduction.
Maine Trails: There’s been a lot of talk about expanding rail service in Maine and perhaps using tolls to help subsidize that expansion. What is the Turnpike’s position on that?
Violette: Our position at the Turnpike Authority is that we’re not opposed to the expansion of passenger rail, but the challenge is how to add more when you can’t even take care of what we have now. Taking care of what you already have and making sure it is safe and efficient and serves the people of Maine, that’s the hard stuff, and that takes leadership.
Maine Trails: The Maine Turnpike Authority recently voted to widen the Turnpike through Portland and is working to get its bond cap increased. The Turnpike is taking both of these to the Legislature, right?
Violette: That is exactly what I am talking about. Our job is to take care of this piece of infrastructure that we have and make sure it is safe and efficient and that it serves our customers and the people of Maine. And I’ve said this to our public affairs group — if I can only have one of these two things, to widen the Turnpike through the Greater Portland area or to get the bond cap increased to maintain the Turnpike, I want the bond cap increased so we can maintain the Turnpike. It is important to widen the Turnpike in Portland, but we also need to make sure we can take care of it. We have to be careful as we push to build new highways and add new services like the train. That’s the exciting stuff and it gets all the attention. But taking care of our infrastructure — that’s even more important — and that’s the biggest challenge facing us right now.
Maine Trails: Does that mean there could be more of a future for tolling in Maine?
Violette: I think that a lot of transportation leaders are beginning to see that if we are going to build anything new, we need to be considering tolls. It would take a project like a connector to Gorham or a new highway to Sanford or if we’re going to connect I-395 to the Airline.
Right now, it’s like the 1930s and ‘40s when the Turnpike Authority was first formed and there wasn’t any federal funding available. Tolls will give us a way to build an important piece of new infrastructure that would be very difficult to fund otherwise — and that’s just the challenge they had when the Maine Turnpike Authority was first founded. We have to understand that tolling isn’t the only answer, and that we need to be looking at other funding sources. Tolling wouldn’t work for some projects like an extension or the completion of I-95 in Aroostook County as a toll road. Those projects are just not going to generate enough money or the capital that’s needed. But a connector to Gorham can be paid for entirely with tolls. The economics are there.
Maine Trails: Other states are looking at privatization as a way to raise funds and build new roads. Is that something that might work for Maine?
Violette: Many other parts of the country are looking to privatization, but I’m not sure that has a place in Maine, because the volume and return on investment is not there. Or even if it makes fiscal sense for the state to be talking about it. I always compare selling a public asset like the Turnpike to selling the crown jewels. You’re selling one of the few things that actually makes money for you, like selling the liquor concession or selling the lottery.
Next, will you sell your income tax? Pretty soon, will you have anything left?
But when you’re having financial hard times and someone’s waving a check for a billion or two billion or maybe three billion dollars in front of you, it can be tempting. In most cases, this move to privatization of public roads is driven by the states’ budget problems, and a fair amount of that money is not going to transportation. It’s going to debt service or it’s going, in the case of the New Jersey Turnpike, to shore up the state retirement fund.
The truth is, Maine already can do what a private firm would do — and we can do it cheaper. The Maine Turnpike Authority can borrow money for less than Macquarie and Goldman Sachs. I can borrow tax-exempt debt right now for five percent, and I don’t need an 18 percent return on the investment that a private firm would need.
Finally, if you do talk about converting a public asset to private ownership, what problems are you opening the door to? Are we going to let that private firm put profits before safety? That’s never an issue with the Turnpike now. Well, the question is, if a private entity comes in, will it be in the state’s best interest?
Maine Trails: What do you think about other types of user fees like the system that’s being tested in Oregon right now? Do you think those hold promise?
Violette: Yes I do. The European community is going to a model where every tractor trailer truck is going to have either an RF [transponder-reader system similar to E-ZPass] or GPS [a satellite-based tracking system] device in it. Germany has just put GPS on the Autobahn for all commercial vehicles, and there’s never been a toll on the Autobahn before.
And I certainly see the day is coming when there will be the equivalent of a transponder that gets built into every vehicle, and it will comply with some national standard. Our trade association, the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, has been urging the federal government to set a standard for electronic toll collection for over 15 years. Once we have a national standard,
I think there’s no reason that a user fee system wouldn’t work in this country.
Heritage, engineering of Maine’s covered bridges continue to impress
By DOUGLAS ROOKS
Everett Barnard has no hesitation when asked what draws people, again and again to Maine’s historic covered bridges.
“It’s our heritage,” he said of the reminders of the earliest days of highway and bridge construction in the state. “It’s what people want to remember about our past, and to relive when they can.” That, and, the fact that the early covered bridges were being built by craftsmen who spent most their time raising barns and other post-and-beam structures, are remarkable example of intuitive engineering — lasting achievements from the days before structural engineering became a science.
“It goes right back to our beginnings as a state,” he said. “These were local craftsmen who also became inventors, who through trial and error found the best way to span streams and create commerce.”
Barnard has lived with and worked on covered bridges more than most. He went to work for what is now the Department of Transportation in 1959, joining the bridge division in 1961 and the maintenance section in 1966. He was appointed bridge maintenance engineer in 1981, a position he held until his retirement in 2003. When people want to know about the workings of covered bridges in Maine, they still call Barnard, who lives in Augusta. Maine has nine covered bridges maintained by MaineDOT, including two replicas, a much smaller number than other New England states. New Hampshire has 60 remaining covered bridges and Vermont nearly 100. The largest number of covered bridges in any state is in Pennsylvania, which has more than 200. In all, well over 1,000 covered bridges were built in New England, and about 150 in Maine, according to Joseph Conwill, who is recognized as the expert on covered bridges. His book on the subject, Covered Bridges Across North America is still available on-line. The author, who lives in Rangeley, claims to have visited every covered bridge in the U.S. and Canada that existed in 1966.
An endangered species
Barnard says he believes that number is about right “as long as you realize that not all of those bridges were in existence at the same time.” Even in the early days, wooden bridges had a high mortality rate. Fire, flood and occasional unsuccessful designs all took their toll. By the turn of the 20th century, there were about 125 covered bridges in Maine, and by 1924-25 — when the state did a complete inventory of all its bridges — there were just 65. The modern era of concrete and steel construction was in full swing, and wooden bridges of all types were replaced rapidly by spans that could carry much greater loads and required far less maintenance.
By 1959, there were just 10 covered bridges remaining on the state’s roster. The last covered bridge to be deliberately removed was the bridge over the Little Black River, a tributary of the Allagash in far northern Maine. That bridge was replaced with a “modern” span in 1956. One of Maine’s 10 remaining covered bridges, the Morse Bridge in Bangor, was the only one lying within city limits. It was decommissioned in 1961 and moved to a site downstream because the city fathers wanted to preserve it. But its end was a sad one. The state highway commissioner was not enthusiastic about the relocation, as Everett Barnard remembers it, and the site — in an out-of-the-way park below a shopping center — was a poor one.
The bridge was torched by vandals in 1983 and not rebuilt. That fate – destruction by fire – was also visited upon Babb’s Bridge, which spans the Presumpscot River between Gorham and Windham, in 1973. But in 1976, DOT undertook construction of an exact replica, using local woodwrights who understood the bridge construction techniques.
By the late 1940s, the tide had begun to turn from replacement to preservation. Covered bridges had a friend at the State Highway Commission, a predecessor of Barnard’s named Roy Wentzel, who took the job in the 1940s. “They were tearing them down pretty fast,” said Barnard. In 1947, Wentzel saw to it that the remaining covered bridges fell under the Highway Commission’s jurisdiction. “He favored covered bridges,” Barnard said of Wentzel. “I think he admired how they were built.” Wentzel wasn’t alone. In 1959, the Legislature passed a bill to protect all remaining covered bridges, and put the Highway Commission in charge of doing so. It was the first of several such measures, the most recent in 1985 that, along with help from a new federal bridge preservation program, set off more reconstruction efforts. The 1985 statute requires MaineDOT to protect and maintain all covered bridges of “unique design,” and that includes each one of the nine. The result is that “all our covered bridges are in pretty good shape,” Barnard said. “We’ve done a good job keeping up in that area.”
Having so few bridges relative to its northern New England neighbors may in fact be a blessing in disguise. Since there are only nine that need maintenance, Maine can devote more attention to each, Barnard points out.
Barring catastrophe, the state isn’t likely to lose any more of these landmarks. A lengthy tour It’s hard to take a tour of the nine bridges, since they are so widely scattered around the state, lying as far north as Littleton (Watson Settlement) and as far south as Fryeburg (Hemlock). If you do want to look, however, five of the bridges are clustered in Oxford County: Hemlock, Artist’s, Lovejoy and Bennett, while a fifth, the Porter Bridge, lies on the York-Oxford County border. The others are Babb’s (Cumberland County), Lowe’s (Piscataquis), Robyville (Penobscot) and Watson Settlement (Aroostook).
The last-named bridge illustrates just how little is known about some of these bridges — Watson Settlement has vanished from the maps, and few seem to know where it might have been. Asked about his favorite among the nine bridges, Barnard demurs. He allows that Artist’s Bridge over the Sunday River in Newry is always cited as the most photographed and painted. It has a picturesque and unusual latticework structure on its sides, and lies in a vale between mountains that is, well, an unforgettable sight. And those who grew up in the greater Bethel area often remember the bridge as a spot that recalls the 19th century appellation of “kissing bridge” – along with other youthful activities. For year rounders as well as visitors, it’s a good place to get away from it all.
There’s no question that each Maine covered bridge is unique. The surviving bridges were built between 1857 (Hemlock) and 1911 (Watson Settlement) that were indeed the boom times for wooden bridges in New England. While Maine stopped building covered structures by the 1920s, the technique remained in use across the international border in New Brunswick until much later. The last new covered bridge there, according to a paper by Joseph Conwill, was put up in 1958. Oregon was another place where covered bridges remained in vogue into the 1950s.
The earliest recorded covered bridge in Maine was built a year before statehood, in 1819, appropriately enough in Augusta, the soon-to-be state capital. It figures on several early prints of the city as a prominent landmark until it, like other early bridges, was washed out in a spring freshet. The Augusta bridge, though, wasn’t the longest covered bridge in the state. That title may belong to a bridge across the Penobscot River from Bangor to Brewer that was 792 feet, using multiple spans, built in 1846 at a then-sizeable cost of $60,000.
A 600-foot-long covered bridge across the Kennebec at Norridgewock was another impressive structure, and its successors show the staying power of the covered bridge image.
The idiosyncratic 1928 replacement, whose concrete superstructure in some ways mimics the earlier construction, is also known as “the covered bridge,” and even as MaineDOT now plans its replacement, sometime in the next decade, that project too is known as “the covered bridge.”
The historian Conwill has high praise for the builders of these bridges. In his lecture, “Who Built the Covered Bridges? The Social Organization of Building,” he says: “The legendary covered bridge builder is a folk figure like the old-time lumberjack, or the tall ship sailor. We know the image: self-taught, a farmer in the summer and a bridge-builder in the winter, he may or may not have been able to read and write. But he was capable of building sturdy bridges, which has lasted in service over a century.” Conwill concludes that the reality “sometimes” matches this romantic image.
Within a few decades, New England was employing several full-time bridge designers and builders. In this region, towns were the primary employers of bridge builders, and expenses were often figured down to the penny. The Lovejoy Bridge, for instance, commissioned by Andover, is recorded in town records as being built of square-sawn spruce and costing exactly $743.47. The Porter- Parsonfield Bridge was an early example of regional cooperation, with the two towns splitting the cost.
The trusses of covered bridges were the innovative parts of their designs, and some of these inventions were patented. The most popular design here was the Paddleford truss, itself a modified version of the Long truss (the names usually referred to the inventor). In all, the remaining Maine covered bridges have five Paddleford designs, two of the Long variety, and two using a Howe truss.
Most of the later bridges use laminated beams, often of impressive size and length, to increase strength and flexibility. That was an important factor for increasing agricultural loads that used the bridges. That feature also recalls much more contemporary bridge-building, such as the advanced woodand- polymer laminated designs pioneered by the University of Maine’s composites research and development facility.
Rebuilding the modern way
In 1987, another covered bridge fell — Lowe’s Bridge on the Piscataquis River, washed away in the “100 year flood” that April. (The flood focused national news coverage on the Kennebec basin downstream, including pictures of canoes navigating Water Street in Hallowell and Gardiner.) This time, MaineDOT tried a different method, building a “modern covered bridge,” as Barnard puts it, employing some of the improved load-bearing designs of the 20th century. It looks much like the old bridge, but stands several feet higher to avoid another washout sometime later in the 21st century.
There’s considerable debate about how to preserve and maintain covered bridges long after the original builders believed they would last. Some preservationists resist any structural changes at all, but replicating some of the original features is expensive and highly labor-intensive. Barnard prefers that covered bridges not be bypassed (as was done in Newry, Porter and Littleton, for instance) but remain open for both vehicle and pedestrian traffic; five of the Maine bridges are, including the two replicas. That can be accomplished, he said, by adding steel I-beams below the main bearing surfaces. “The purists don’t like it, but on most bridges you can hardly see them. It makes them safe and durable, and you can keep using them for decades to come,” he said.
More than postcards
There’s no doubt that covered bridges have more than picture-postcard appeal. Natives and residents appreciate them just as much, and their feelings are reflected in Maine law that, as much as any law can, ensures that they will remain in existence permanently. The allure of covered bridges is such that people keep building them even where there is no need for transportation. A website devoted to all covered bridges, and not just state-maintained ones, depicts a fairly saggy-looking 25-foot span in Trenton. More robust bridges were built at the Cole Museum in Bangor in 1994 and at the Big Adventure attraction in 1999. The most recent addition is a 50-foot pedestrian covered bridge, part of the Bethel town trail system, built in 2001. Barnard likes all the bridges that survive, but misses some of those that are gone.
“There were double-barreled bridges,” such as the Stillwater Bridge near Orono, the last Town lattice truss bridge in the U.S., removed in 1951. “There were bridges with sidewalks on the outside, railroad bridges, bridges with all kinds of unusual siding. You would like to have seen them all,” he said.
He’d also like to see more attention paid to this aspect of Maine history, and believes that, while bridge technology marches on, maintaining Maine’s historic covered bridges is well worth the investment. “They’re really almost like a piece of furniture, like a well-built work of art. Not one of them has exactly the same design, and that’s why they’re all special.”
Douglas Rooks writes, edits and consults for numerous publications and non-profit organizations.
Cleared for take-off
by Kathryn Buxton
Built as a post-World War II air force base, now decommissioned, Bangor International Airport has faced major industry shifts and other challenges by building public-private partnerships and nurturing a growing regional demand for convenient travel options.
On a recent winter morning, Bangor International Airport (BIA) is bustling. A row of women and men line the enclosed walkway between the airport’s domestic and international terminals. They are greeting American soldiers returning from service in Iraq. The soldiers are on a layover and, quickly, the waiting areas, restaurants, shops and a serviceman’s welcome center are filled to overflowing.
BIA is, in a way, the ideal way station for troops serving overseas. It is the United States’ easternmost airport and home to the local Air National Guard. It also is a refueling stop for the military’s transcontinental and transatlantic flights.
Since 2003, more than 400,000 military personnel have passed through BIA. Almost every one of them has been met with a smile and word of appreciation by a group of local citizens known as the Maine Troop Greeters — many of them veterans themselves. They give the soldiers a homey dose of cheer the soldiers often remember long after their brief layover. That’s the kind of goodwill and neighborliness one rarely associates with post-September 11 air travel, even as passengers are carefully screened and security measures closely followed.
“The young men and women who pass through here during their deployment are an inspiration. The quality bodes well for the nation’s future,” said Maine Representative Dusty Fisher (Brewer) who has been involved with the group nearly since its inception.
“We’re the last point of departure and the first point of arrival,” said Airport Manager Rebecca Hupp who said the personnel passing through Bangor represent military passengers traveling on a mix of civilian air charters and military flights.
In recent years, as security concerns have increased, BIA has taken on a high profile role as a diversion destination for international flights on which there is a suspected security problem. A pilot with a disruptive passenger can radio ahead to Bangor, and the airport can bring in a security team within minutes — usually local police, customs and FBI personnel.
When the airliner lands, it taxis to a far corner of the airfield where officials can board and escort the problem passenger from the aircraft. This doesn’t happen often, but whenever it does, the airport and law enforcement’s efficient handling of the disturbance frequently brings positive coverage in the national and international press. Hupp is very matter-of fact when talking about Bangor’s high profile role in the nation’s security. “We have a good relationship with all of the agencies — the FBI and U.S. Customs — and of course, the Bangor Police Department,” said Hupp who said that since 2001, there have been more than a half dozen flight diversions. Additionally, the airport, with its nearly two-mile-long runway, is one of several alternative landing sites for NASA’s Space Shuttle that could be diverted due to weather or other concerns.
BIA is one of three international airports serving Maine; Portland and Presque Isle are home to the other two. The first flights out of the facility were in 1946 when it was Dow Air Force Base. The base, because of its strategic location and long runway, drew some of the military’s largest aircraft. At the height of the Vietnam War during the early and mid- 1960s, B52s regularly flew from the base. Dow was decommissioned in 1968, and the city of Bangor assumed control of it, converting it to commercial operations. The sprawling facility remains integral to the nation’s defense since it serves as home to the local Air National Guard. The Guard houses a fleet of Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers at the base, and other military craft, including McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extenders and Boeing C-17 Globemasters, often can be seen on its tarmac.
Bangor is what is known as an “enterprise fund” airport. That means it operates solely from the revenues it generates from a variety of aeronautical and other operations. As an enterprise fund airport, the ongoing relationship between the military and BIA has been extremely important, according to Hupp. She said the military and the airport frequently share costs. For example, in the case of snow removal and groundskeeping, the Air National Guard owns the equipment and BIA provides the labor to plow the runway and cut grass, among other maintenance activities. Hupp said the agreement certainly helps Bangor keep the airport’s bottom line healthy.
The airport brings in operating revenues from its aircraft maintenance operations, passenger services, concessions and its real estate holdings. Recently, L.L. Bean opened a call center in a BIA-owned building, and the airport has several other non-aeronautical tenants.
Courting regional travelers
The all-time high for BIA passenger travel (911,999 passengers) was in the early 1990s when the airport still had regular commercial overseas flights. When those flights stopped, BIA worked hard to build a niche serving the region’s domestic travelers. That has not been easy in the hardscrabble world of airline deregulation today. But Bangor has aggressively marketed its service to the region’s travelers, promoting convenience and timesavings.
Today, BIA serves nearly a half a million passengers every year, making it the second busiest airport in Maine (the number one Maine airport, Portland, logs approximately 1.4 million passengers annually). The airport’s healthy bottom line has made it possible for BIA to develop a niche for Bangor area and Penobscot County travelers. Five U.S. carriers serve the airport, and the region’s travelers have their pick of several key destinations — major U.S. cities and key airline hubs that include Boston, New York, Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta. In 2005, BIA made big news when Continental added daily flights to its New York area hub at Liberty International Airport in Newark.
Hupp would like to add a Florida city to the airport’s roster of flights. She said it will be important that the new service offer affordable flights. Unfortunately, BIA has nothing to do with setting ticket prices; those are set by the airlines based on volume, competition with other carriers and other market factors. As Hupp pointed out, airport fees are a minimal factor in determining ticket costs.
“Only 5 percent of an airline’s costs is in airport fees,” said Hupp. “We do what we can to keep costs down, but what we charge is not going to make a big impact on what the customer pays for a ticket.”
An important factor in BIA’s business plan is making strategic investments in its facilities. In 2003, the airport completed an $18 million reconstruction of its runway (The Lane Construction Corp. was the primary contractor). This past summer, the airport constructed a new access road on the east side of the airport. Sargent Corp. did the construction, while another MBTA member, Moulison North Corp. did the electrical work.
Hupp said the airport will be spending more than $1 million to reconstruct the cargo aircraft parking apron. There are also plans in the works to construct a second access road on the west side of the runway within the next two years, a project budgeted at $350,000. This would be used to develop new cargo transportation markets. Hupp is guardedly optimistic about the promise of new cargo business for the airport. She said shipping goods by air is expensive and the competition is fierce.
Developing expanded air cargo service from Bangor would be easier if there were a more convenient east-west connection over land. Hupp and MaineDOT’s Office of Passenger Transportation are exploring further development of the airport’s passenger service, as well. “We want to be the preferred service provider for our region,” said Hupp.
To achieve that goal, the airport will need to stay on top of market developments to make sure that BIA continues to have a competitive offering of flight service. “Our job is to make flying from Bangor easier, more convenient and as affordable as possible,” said Hupp.