Maine Trails, October - November '07
Inside Cover
President’s Message
Cover Story: Congestion strategies
Member News: Family ties
Conversations with the committee

President’s Message
No time to rest on our laurels. We have achieved so much, but now more than ever, we need to continue the push for a solution to the transportation funding crisis

By Lauren Corey, MBTA President

In normal times, this would be a time for celebration and optimism. This spring, voters passed a record transportation bond of $113 million, and a strong majority in both houses of Maine’s legislature voted to pass LD 1790: “An Act to Secure Maine’s Transportation Future”. MBTA members worked hard for both measures, talking with their legislators and encouraging family, co-workers, neighbors and friends to support the bond. But these have not been normal times. That record bond barely gives MaineDOT the resources they need to recover from two years of underfunding and intense inflationary pressures that increased the cost of highway construction materials by more than 30 percent. And while the passage of LD 1790 has been a major achievement, the bill was stripped of its funding measures before it was passed and is still sitting on Governor Baldacci’s desk, waiting to be signed. We also have had a tragic reminder of how much more needs to be done.

The collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, where 13 commuters died, reminded us of how important it will be to address Maine’s own sizable backlog of 288 defi cient bridges in need of repair or replacement. This fall, our work to shine the spotlight on the crisis has continued. The MBTA board and staff have continued our discussions with legislators and MaineDOT and are working toward solutions to these challenges. While we have done a great deal to educate everyone involved about the need, these are diffi cult times for anyone seeking state or federal funding.

The competition for public dollars is very high, as is the push to lower the tax burden. The challenge of balancing state funding priorities is at the heart of one transportation funding study currently underway in the legislature. The Committee to Study Appropriate Funding of the State Police is reviewing the Highway Fund support of the Maine State Police. This study follows an Offi ce of Program Evaluation & Government Accountability (OPEGA) report released in early 2007 that found the Highway Fund was paying between $13.5 – $20 million too much for transportation-related enforcement activities. MBTA has testifi ed in support of a more equitable funding equation for the Maine State Police that could free up millions of dollars more every year for highway and bridge maintenance and other transportation priorities. This isn’t about reducing the State Police budget, because they need every dollar they are allocated; rather, it is about ensuring that the Highway Fund only pays for those functions that have to do with transportation, as required by the Maine’s Constitution.

A second legislative study of Maine’s fuel tax is underway. Legislators are exploring whether it would make sense to convert a portion of the motor fuel tax from a flat, pergallon fee to a sales tax that would rise and fall with the price of fuel. MBTA is working with legislators, the MaineDOT and other industry groups to evaluate this funding option. One way to minimize the impact of such a move would be to reduce the state’s fuel tax at the same time. Maine’s citizens, legislators and executive leadership are faced with some difficult choices.

The option of raising new revenue to fund the highway and bridge crisis is clearly unpopular. The path of least resistance is to fail to act, to delay what needs to be done. When a tragedy such as the I-35W bridge failure occurs in Maine, will the path we choose be a choice we are willing to stand behind?

I suggest that we consider these choices seriously and move forward with the one that will withstand the test of integrity. MBTA will be calling on all of our membership to help advocate for increased funding for our highways, bridges, air, rail and ports in the coming months. I hope you will watch your e-mail for our MBTA Updates and take time to contact your local legislators on these issues. As we know from this past spring, your support and involvement helps make our message heard! It was great to see so many of you at the MBTA events this fall, including the Fall Convention and the 11th Transportation Achievement Awards. We have several events planned for coming months, and I hope to see you there, as well. Best wishes to you and your families this holiday season.

Cover Story: Congestion strategies
In an era of belt-tightening, state and municipal planners turn to low-budget strategies as they grapple with traffic hot spots, but skeptics ask, 'Is that enough?'

By Douglas Rooks

Compared to the massive traffic jams commuters face daily in other states, congestion might not seem to be a major problem in Maine. Yet the Maine Department of Transportation estimates that delays due to congestion cost drivers $500 million a year in lost time and other expenses – and projections for the state’s urban areas show tie-ups dramatically worsening over the next 20 years.

"Congestion is increasing much faster than traffic volumes overall," said Dale Doughty, acting director of planning for MaineDOT. “We know traffic is going to increase, but we’re trying to ensure that drivers don’t see their commuting times lengthen, and shoppers can still get where they’re going,” he said. Specifically, without changes in the transportation system, traffic is expected to grow by a factor of 1.2, while congestion could grow by 1.5 – a major difference.

While congestion has become a more prominent focus for planners both at MaineDOT and at Maine’s regional transportation agencies, the traditional strategy of building new and wider roads has encountered serious limitations. Had he been asked about a specific congestion problem a few years ago, John Duncan, director of Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation (or PACTS), observed, “I would have said that was a big concern we had to do something about.” Now, though, “funding is so limited that we have to change the way we think” about traffic problems.

That doesn’t mean that Maine doesn’t continue to consider, and build, projects that have as their primary objects relieving congestion and improving highway safety. Examples of such recent big-ticket items include two projects that involved cost-sharing between the Maine Turnpike Authority and MaineDOT: the recently completed Gray bypass (Route 26A) and the Gorham bypass now under construction. The Gray bypass lies on the west side of the village, almost adjacent to a turnpike interchange. The new road has made a big difference in the backups from the complicated village center traffic pattern that dates to horse and buggy days.

And despite his general concern that there’s not enough money to deal with congestion through construction, PACTS did support the Gorham bypass project, Duncan said. The Gorham project, discussed for decades, was fast-tracked thanks to a federal transportation bill earmark authored by Representative Tom Allen. “Gorham has a thriving village downtown, in a nice college town, that was almost being destroyed by heavy truck traffic,” Duncan said. In some instances, he said, building new is still the best option. Some are skeptical to the idea that congestion can be contained through low-cost alternatives or simply by lowering expectations. Steve Sawyer, president of Sebago Technics, has seen design projects for public roads disappear in recent years, and questions whether the state can simply tough it out when it comes to highway funding.

Private developers, he points out, are required to keep traffic flowing when they build. “They’re held to a standard that mandates a level of service be maintained. If traffic flow goes below that, the costing of fixing it can be huge.” While he doesn’t know of any development projects that have recently been cancelled because of the cost of infrastructure upgrades, but several have been downsized because of the reluctance of state and local agencies to finance related improvements.

Widening what you can
The emphasis on austerity has not meant the end of large projects in all regions of Maine. One example of congestion relief through road building is the planned widening of the Maine Turnpike (I-95) in Greater Portland. The proposed project includes nine miles from the current end of its six-lane configuration at the Scarborough interchange (Exit 44) heading north through Portland to the exit for the Falmouth Spur (Exit 53) connecting with I-295. The $150 million widening would be financed through a toll increase scheduled for 2010 and a $25 million bond limit increase for the Maine Turnpike Authority. Authorizing legislation, LD 320, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Damon, co-chair of the Transportation Committee, was signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci in June.

While Duncan said that the authority’s ability to raise revenue through tolls was a definite factor in the decision to widen the turnpike rather than I-295, a case can be made the turnpike is the more appropriate location, given traffic trends. “The addition of two new interchanges in Portland has created more growth there,” he said. “People are now using the turnpike as an alternative to local roads where congestion is a problem.”

Somewhat more problematic is the potential widening of I-295 in the heart of downtown Portland, largely to improve safety at such hazardous interchanges as Forest Avenue, where exiting traffic crosses over incoming lanes with little space or margin for error.

To make the road safer here, it would need six lanes from Congress Street to the Franklin Arterial and would cost an estimated $30 million – with no identified source of funding to date.

What keeps the I-295 widening in the running at all, Duncan said, is that the lanes could be carved out of the current median strip, rather than expanding the footprint of the road. Even so, the proposal is controversial locally, and it’s not certain it would be approved even if funding is identified, he said.

Signalling change
Dale Doughty agrees that there is simply not enough money in the federal and state budgets, now and in the immediate future, to build our way out of congestion problems, so a variety of strategies must be employed to make headway. When considering solutions to congestion that don’t involve new roads or major widenings, MaineDOT looks at several categories to see what might help.

One of the quickest, and potentially the cheapest, is the use of “intelligent transportation systems” (ITS). ITS involves everything from coordinated traffic lights to remote sensors that monitor traffic, provide early warning of accidents or other causes of short-term congestion. Traffic monitoring and adjustment of stoplights can make the difference between a minor delay and a real tie-up, Doughty said. “A good system sees how things are running and reacts to developing obstacles so the traffic light changes don’t end up compounding the problem.”

Rob Kenerson, director of the Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System (BACTS) said that inefficient traffic signals are one of the biggest congestion problems identified in recent studies of the Interstate 95 and I-395 corridors in Bangor and Brewer, that MaineDOT is now studying for improvements. Some examples are egregious: “You can start up at a traffic light on one side of a bridge, and immediate see the light on the other side turning red,” he said.

Lane changes
The second mitigation strategy MaineDOT employs is what it calls “auxiliary lane improvements” that don’t involve major new stretches of road, but which may widen intersections to provide turning lanes, improve sightlines and remove bottlenecks.

An example of the latter is the addition of a lane on each side of outer Western Avenue (Route 202) in Augusta – paid for through impact fees from a new shopping mall nearby . The additional lanes eliminated a chokepoint from a traffic light added by the city on a two-lane section of the road. As a result, westbound traffic flows noticeably more freely during homeward commutes each afternoon.

Alyssas Shuman, co-owner of the Charlie’s auto dealerships on outer Western Avenue, said the congestion relief has been dramatic. “When we used to go out into traffic in the afternoon just to go downtown, it would take 40 minutes to get back. Now you can do it in no time.” The expansion of the dealership, which has grown from 17 to 230 employees over the years, was one of the factors adding cross-traffic to the highway.

Both signal coordination and lane improvements have been approved for Route 302 in North Windham, where explosive roadside growth along a one-mile strip causes considerable congestion. MaineDOT will spend up to $450,000 to improve five intersections in a project expected to reduce delays by 18 percent and cut fuel consumption from idling by 10 percent. The town of Windham has requested another innovation as part of the project – horizontal traffic lights such as those used in major cities, rather than the vertical signals traditionally used throughout Maine.

Other projects involve safety as much as congestion per se, adding truck lanes (for steep hills) and passing lanes (on the flat) to deal with the problem of slow-moving vehicles. Passing lanes are a feature of MaineDOT’s ongoing work on Route 111, a major commuter route between Sanford and Biddeford, where one slow vehicle can back up traffic a long way.

An example of a community dealing with seasonal congestion through traffic management is Ellsworth. That city earned MaineDOT approval for a scheme to make traffic one-way up Beckwith Hill beyond the junction of Routes 1 and 3. The new routing diverts traffic from Mount Desert Island onto an existing side street that connects to Route 1. This, in effect, creates a large roundabout. The project, undertaken to permit building of several new big box stores, including a Wal-Mart Supercenter along Route 1, is currently under construction and should be finished by next summer.

Other 'alternatives'
A third option that’s considered whenever service center communities seek congestion relief are alternative modes of transportation. The dominance of single-occupancy vehicles used for commuting is even more pronounced in Maine, thanks to its small and dispersed population, than in other places. Car pools, seasonal trolleys, expanded bus service, trains and even bicycles have all been employed in MaineDOT plans in recent years.

John Duncan is something of a skeptic about carpooling when it comes to congestion relief. Several years ago, he and his wife, who live in Yarmouth and both work in Portland, decided to begin traveling to work together. Although their commute along I-295, he said, is “like falling off a log,” they decided that global warming was such a pressing concern that personal contributions were necessary.

Other Portland-area commutes, though, are a lot tougher, Duncan said. “If you’re coming in on Brighton Avenue, or Washington Avenue, you’re crawling along from traffic light to traffic light.”

Yet, so far, there are not a lot of Mainers who have registered as carpool users, though there may be a lot of informal arrangements that aren’t recorded in the statistics. Even after a spike in inquiries following the recent surge in gasoline prices, PACTS, which runs the statewide Go Maine Commuter Connections program, reports that there are 3,923 registered commuters, with 270 carpools and 400 carpool participants. Go Maine also operates 13 vans carrying 204 commuters and has 252 people registered that commute by bicycle.

Bangor has seen significant growth in the use of its bus system – now catchily entitled “The BAT” – Bangor Area Transportation – thanks to better route management, attractive fares, and good old attention to detail. The bright red buses have attracted a lot of attention to the system, said Don Cooper, a BACTS planner who manages the bus system. They enable riders to easily distinguish an approaching bus, say, from a recreational vehicle of comparable size. Since 2000, ridership has been growing at least 8-10 percent a year, and sometimes faster. Annual passenger totals have grown from 496,000 in fiscal 2002 to at least 830,000 this year.

Routes have been reconfigured to provide greater convenience, and to avoid some traffic signals, that can drastically slow buses and put them behind schedule, Cooper said. One route, before revisions, had no fewer than 21 traffic lights.

Another major boost to the system was an agreement with the University of Maine that exchanged a lump sum payment for rides for all students and staff. The deal was in response to parking problems on the Orono campus. Foreign exchange students expect to ride public transportation, Cooper said, while many Mainers attending the university are now learning to leave their cars behind on trips downtown and to the mall.

Other changes to the system riders would like to see – Sunday trips and extended evening hours beyond the current 6:30 p.m. closing – will have to await better funding, Cooper said. “At $36 per hour per bus, and a five-hour extension, we’re talking $1,800 per day – which really adds up,” he said. Realistically, such expansions will require increased federal funding for congestion relief and pollution reduction.

Train response
There are places where commuter rail comes into the picture as well – specifically, in Portland, where the addition of buses to crowded I-295 would not provide optimal service, said Dale Doughty. A commuter rail line that would cover the area from Kennebunk to Brunswick is feasible, and would provide congestion relief in the Portland area, a recent corridor study shows. A commuter train, for instance, is probably a better option than a dedicated carpool lane, that would involve major construction and might not be the right capacity fit anyway, Doughty said. “A full-fledged third lane in each direction might be more than we need to make alternatives work,” he said.

MaineDOT’s fourth mitigation strategy goes under the title of "incident management," which refers to responses to accidents, breakdowns, and other unpredictable events that slow down traffic flow. For the busiest interstate sections, programmable signs warning of delays and promoting alternate routes are cost-effective, Doughty said. Such signs are now in use by the Maine Turnpike Authority and may be expanded in the future. Another option, not yet in use, are “service patrols” that would operate in addition to police, spotting accidents, offering assistance, and reporting locations through a centralized dispatch system.

The fifth and final strategy is access management – making sure that new or expanded entrances are properly spaced and constructed for efficient, safe access. Clustering entrance points and making sure traffic lights are far enough apart are key items, Doughty said. Lights that are too close or too numerous on a particular stretch of road cannot be effectively coordinated, no matter how sophisticated the computer program is.

Doughty admits that the five congestion relief strategies, taken singly, might not seem to amount to much when compared with the tide of cars and trucks traveling Maine roads daily. It’s frequently noted that despite significant increases in ridership for the Downeaster train from Portland to Boston, it still carries less than 2 percent of travelers along that route.

"Taken alone, each element may not seem like the answer," Doughty said."But together, they do make a significant difference." And as long as transportation budgets remain austere, they also may be the best way to keep congestion at manageable levels.

Steve Sawyer questions whether that will mbe enough. “We really need MaineDOT to come up with a plan to address our infrastructure need," he said. “They know we have a problem, and we are anxious to work with them on a plan.”

While he and other private sector business leaders appreciate the legislature’s passage of framework legislation to improve the funding situation, a corresponding lack of money in the state budget means little change overall. “Nothing’s going to happen without a lot of leadership, at all levels,” he said. He looks to involvement by the business community as a whole, including companies that depend on transportation to get their goods and services to market, as crucial to gaining adequate funding. While transportation budgets, federal and state, may remain austere for some time, the prospect of worsening congestion in communities around Maine may be the spur needed for change.

“We’ll have to be creative, no doubt,” Sawyer said. “Maine could be doing better at using development impact fees to leverage more private dollars, for instance. But we won’t get far until we overcome our reluctance to face up to the problem.”

Member News: Family ties
Maine’s Nortrax dealerships build on the John Deere family history and reputation.

By Kathryn Buxton

It’s a sunny, warm autumn morning, and nearly every station at the repair department of the Nortrax dealership in Westbrook is full. At the back of the shop, a set of high, broad doors open onto the yard. Outside there’s an army of loaders, dozers, shredders and skidders in shades of orange and yellow lined up ready to do battle. Inside the shop, a service technician inspects a new Hitachi excavator that is about to be delivered to job site in Augusta and prepares to mount a quick coupler to the arm.

Nortrax Service Manager Chip O’Brien leads a tour of the service shop and stops to take note of the custom-fitted excavator. The machine illustrates a major trend in the business, he said. The coupler will speed the time it takes for a customer to swap buckets and other attachments. The goal, said O’Brien,is to move the machine digging to ditching and onto the next task more quickly. That, in turn, means his customer can schedule jobs more tightly and keep the excavator’s idle time to a minimum.

O’Brien and the Nortrax staff understand just how important efficiency is to their customers. With increasing material costs and ever-tightening construction budgets, Maine construction firms have to push hard to make the most of the construction season. When a customer is investing a quarter million dollars or more in a single piece of equipment, they need a workhorse that will move from job to job without a hitch. “Efficiency and flexibility,” said O’Brien, “that’s important on a job site these days.”

Second century
Helping customers get the most out of their equipment is a full-time pursuit at Nortrax. The dealer has three locations in Maine – Westbrook, Bangor and Houlton – and 48 locations in 13 states. Nortrax is a division of Deere & Company, and while the Maine dealerships also sell the Hitachi and Morbark brands, John Deere and its strong market identity shape everything the company does.

Deere & Company was founded in 1837 as a one-man blacksmith shop. Today, the moniker John Deere and signature “John Deere green” is one of the strongest brand identities in the world. The company is often used as a case study for business school students who learn about how the company has grown into a global force selling agricultural equipment, commercial and consumer equipment, construction and forestry equipment and credit. Nortrax was founded in 1999 when Deere & Company bought out and consolidated its independently owned dealers that carried Deere’s construction and forestry lines. In Maine, Nortrax bought up Metco dealerships in Westbrook, Bangor and Houlton. The three locations are among 48 Nortrax locations in 13 states. While the company closed some of the smaller dealerships in other parts of the company, it has invested in its Maine locations, expanding their repair shops and parts inventories.

Chuck Dull, Nortrax vice president for northeast region, said the consolidation of dealerships under a single company banner has given the Maine dealers a strong leg up in an industry that has been changing rapidly during the past decade. Deere has capitalized the expansion and provided the dealerships with marketing support. Still he said the company encourages the Nortrax personnel to become “corporate entrepreneurs,” establishing strong local connections to the industries they serve. “We want our dealers to focus on delivering unimaginable experiences to our customers,” said Dull. He said those experiences ultimately should reflect the “quality, consistency and reliability” for which John Deere has become known.

98 percent
In the Westbrook store, general manager Paul Beaudette and his staff offer a textbook example of that “corporate entrepreneurship.” Beaudette, a former construction manager, joined the company earlier this year and his learning curve has been steep. As he strides through the retail shop to the parts department and into the repair shop, he talks passionately about the strategy that brings all three of the dealer’s departments together.

According to Beaudette, there is a well considered method behind Nortrax’s expansion of its parts and service departments. The firm knows that as the industry markets get tighter and more competitive, contractors will need to do all they can to keep their operating costs down. So Nortrax has shortened turnaround time on everything from procuring parts to repairing machinery. The Westbrook store has an onsite repair staff of seven full-time mechanics and four more that work the four 24/7 on-call mobile service trucks that repair equipment in the field. The company also has a come-one-come-all service policy. “We’ll fix anything, no matter the vintage, no matter the manufacturer,” said Beaudette. The goal is to ”lower the [contractors’] cost of operation and build their confidence in and loyalty to Nortrax.”

Beaudette said that one of the advantages of being one of 48 dealerships is having access to an almost unlimited inventory of parts. If his staff doesn’t have a part a customer is looking for, they can get on the phone or e-mail other Nortrax dealers in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, the regional headquarters in Beacon, New York, or beyond to track it down. As a result, their fill rate for machine down parts is impressive – 93 percent.

Signature process
That strategy – to be an extension of their customers’ operations, working with them daily to keep their equipment operating efficiently and reduce downtime – certainly pays off on the sales end, according to John Paradis who covers the market from Falmouth to Rockland and west to Augusta. Like several of the staff, he started working for the Westbrook dealership back when it was an independently owned Metco store. According to Paradis the Deere ethic – and the financial strength of the parent company – has benefited contractors in the local market.

“It’s a signature process,” said Paradis. “And John Deere would not put its signature on anything that does not meet its standards.”

The training is extensive. On the sales side, Paradis devotes up to 200 hours each year to become certified to sell Deere’s diverse product line. That long course of study allows Paradis to know each new piece of equipment inside out, so that when he works with a customer he knows exactly which excavator, dozer or loader will create the right fit.

Beaudette said all of the mechanics at the Westbrook facility annually complete approximately 60 hours of training to maintain their Deere certification, as well. That training shows, and repair department staff is extremely versatile and able to fix just about any piece of equipment that comes in their door.

Market outlook
Mike Campbell, who joined the company in 1986 when it was still operating as independent dealerships under the Metco name, said that nationwide there has been a significant slowdown in the business.

“We’re in a trough right now, and I’m talking country-wide. Those are industry numbers,” said Campbell who said that he expects it to take a couple of years to recover from the currently flat market. He said that Nortrax stores in Maine and, in particular, Bangor have been somewhat insulated from that downturn due to the volume of business they see from local municipalities and the state’s forestry industry.

“Right now, it’s about biomass and the price of oil. As soon as oil prices go up, the demand for biomass goes up,” said Campbell who has seen demand for the company’s Morbark line of chippers, skidders and feller bunchers grow.

Campbell said that, in Bangor, the construction side has held its own because of several large commercial projects, as well as some road projects.

Campbell’s colleague in the Westbrook store, John Paradis, said that construction side of Westbrook’s business has begun to pick up in recent months, but that surge has been “bittersweet,” coming at the wrong end of the season. He expects there to be a fair amount of interest in new machinery as contractors assess their end-of-the-year tax picture to see if now is a good time to replace aging machinery or expand their fleet. If they make that choice, Paradis and Beaudette say, Nortrax will be ready to make it work for their customers.

“If we don’t have the piece the customer needs, we’ll go anywhere in the country to get it,” said Paradis.

On the customer service side, Beaudette said the new year will bring a greater focus on new technology that will help customers make the most of the equipment they have. The new machines are outfitted with plenty of high-tech bells and whistles like global positioning software (GPS) and John Deere’s branded remote diagnostics technology called JD-Link.

Technology like this enables customers to see where their equipment is, to get regular reminders to perform preventative maintenance, and even, for staff at Nortrax to link to machinery out in the field to diagnose mechanical problems. Just as GPS has become a must-have on most construction work sites during the past several years, Beaudette expects options like remote diagnostics to become the new industry standard in the years to come. And he said Nortrax will be ready. “We’ve got that technology now,” said Beaudette adding that his team is ready to supply the market as demand for the new technology grows. That ability to read the market , identify customer needs and respond with new products is precisely how John Deere has managed to grow and flourish for 170 years.

Conversations with the committee
This is third in Maine Trails’ series of interviews with members of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation. In this issue, we talk with Representatives Richard M. Cebra, Charles “Dusty” Fisher and Ann E. Peoples about transportation in Maine, the funding challenges on the state level and their vision for the future of our transportation system.

Representative Richard M. Cebra (R-Naples)
Representative Cebra was first elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 2004. He believes government should only provide those critical functions that cannot be performed by people or private organizations. He has been an active participant in Republican politics since 1980. He is a former vice chair of the Naples Budget Committee and active in the Naples Republican Town Committee and a charter member of the Naples Lions Club. He is a member of the Freemasons’ Oriental Lodge in Bridgton and Presumpscot Lodge in Windham, Sebago Lake Anglers Association, the Free Hunters Club of America, Life Member of the National Rifle Association, Promise Keepers, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens Alliance of Maine, Republicans for Environmental Protection and the Greater Windham Sebago Lake and Greater Bridgton Lake Region Chambers of Commerce. He lives in Naples and owns a seasonal mini golf course, arcade, craft shop and ice cream restaurant. He and his wife Philippa have two children.

How long have you served on the Transportation Committee?
This is my first term on Transportation.

Do you serve on other committees?
I used to serve on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee and I am the Republican lead on the Committee on Engrossed Bills.

Why did you want this committee assignment?
Because I see transportation as fundamental to everything we do as a state. We can’t go to “quality places” or “economic clusters,” if we don’t have decent roads to get us there. I also believe that we have a priority problem in this state. We have focused too long on growing social services and transportation infrastructure has taken a back seat. We are unable to attract businesses if our roads are falling apart and we are unable to attract any heavy industry if we don’t have a decent freight rail system. We need to shift our priorities. We are the second lowest in the entire country in terms of having General Fund support for highways. Idaho is No. 1, and they have fewer roads to take care of than we do.

What is the one thing that you would like to see changed/enacted/achieved regarding Maine’s transportation system during your term?
A paradigm shift in the way we fund our infrastructure. We need to bring social services and education into a more sustainable funding model and in doing that, at the same time, shift more of our General Fund dollars back to our transportation infrastructure.

What will be the biggest challenge to achieving that?
An entrenched bureaucracy – a government that has taken its eye off the ball. We should be less focused on growing state government and more focused on maintaining our system. I’m not even talking about new roads or freight lines; I am talking about fixing what we already have.

How would you describe the state of transportation in Maine today?
A rapidly deteriorating infrastructure with rapidly increasing costs and a majority of people not having the political will to fix it.

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 would prioritize General Fund spending to include money going to transportation, slowing the unsustainable growth in other areas of state General Fund spending. I would maximize the dollars we do have in the Highway Fund and use that to fix what we can fix.

Did you support LD 1790? If yes, what do you think are the best prospects or strategies for getting the bill funded? If no, why not?
I supported it and actively lobbied for its passage within the caucus and outside the caucus as well. It was the first comprehensive look at transportation that I know about in this state. The administration hasn’t come up with a vision on how to fix the infrastructure, so the Transportation Committee had to. Setting up the bond fund was great. Funding it was another thing and we need more discussions there. The transportation sector contributes so much in sales tax that there is no reason we shouldn’t use some of that sales tax money for fix the system we have.

Earlier this year, an OPEGA study was released that suggested the Highway Fund should pay between 17 and 34 percent of the State Police budget versus the 60 percent it is currently paying. Do you support having the General Fund pay a higher percentage of the State Police budget?
The Highway Fund should only pay the percentage it is supposed to pay based on transportation-related enforcement. It should be based on actual activity, not some made up number that’s not even defendable. The State Police does a great job, and they should be fully funded; but the funding should come from the General Fund. We should not be doing things in government just because “it’s the way things are done.” We need to look at the function and cost of all aspects of state government as a major part of our responsibility to the taxpayers, as well as the people who receive state services to ensure both that we’re getting the best government possible. Our crumbling infrastructure is evidence that we’re not doing that.

How many vehicles with wheels do you and your family own?
Three cars: a 1985 Dodge Ram Charger (in mint condition) that gets put away in November; a 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis; and a 2005 Jeep Liberty which my wife drives. I want her to be in a new car and a 4-wheel drive, but I don’t like to buy new cars for myself given the excise tax rates we have in this state. I also have a ‘79 Yamaha 11-Special that I bought new, and four mountain bikes. I own an 18 HP Troy Built yard tractor and a bunch of attachments for use around the property and an old ‘75 Ford pickup to plow my parking lot and driveways. We also have an older pop-up camping trailer.

How do you get to Boston?
When we go to Boston it is to fly out of Logan and, typically, I drive to Portland and get on Concord Trailways. They do a great job.

In your daily travels, what is the worst road you travel on? What’s the best?
The worst road was Route 35 in Naples, I couldn’t drive my Grand Marquis on it without straddling the double yellow lines. But as of the last week of October, MaineDOT is skimcoating it, so it should be okay to drive on for the short while till the frost heaves come and break it all up again next spring. The best road is the turnpike because on snowy days the turnpike is dry almost as soon as the snow hits the ground. The turnpike and the rest of Interstate 95 is the major artery, the aorta of our system.

Do you have a favorite scenic route?
Because of the seasonal nature of my business, I take very little time off in the summer. But if I find an hour of free time, I get on my motorcycle and go from Naples to Harrison, riding across the top of Long Lake to North Bridgton and then back onto Route 302 in Bridgton down to Naples. Sometimes to make the ride a little longer, instead of just coming down 302, I take 117 from Bridgton to Denmark then to Sebago and up 114 to Naples. Some of the roads are a bit rough, and you can dodge the worst parts on a motorcycle. But it’s an hour of heaven on nice country roads anyway.

Do you have a vision of what transportation in Maine will look like in 20 years?
I have two visions of the future of Maine transportation. One is that if we leave things they way they are funding wise, we will see 30 percent or more of our bridges closed or restricted, and our minor collectors will be impassable other than to four-wheel drive vehicles. We will be too short sighted to take advantage of our ports to improve freight handling because of environmentalists, and we’ll let opportunities like the Western Maine rail project that’s in the works right now slip through our fingers because of one bureaucratic reason or another. My second vision is if we are ever able to get past the special interests and fully fund LD 1790, then we can begin to enjoy some of what is happening in New Hampshire relative to their roads and their economy. I see us taking advantage of moving freight from Portland to New Hampshire and all of New England by rail easing some of the pressure from heavy trucking on our highways. I also see us breaking the feast-or-famine cycle that has plagued transportation funding by putting a steady sustainable bonding structure in place.

Representative Charles “Dusty” Fisher (D-Brewer)
With six terms in the Maine House of Representatives, serving on both the Legal and Veterans Affairs and Transportation committees (he chaired Transportation for one term), Charles “Dusty” Fisher has been a strong advocate for transportation in the state of Maine. A former Brewer High School teacher for 26 years, Fisher believes the most important thing government can do is protect the people who “live in the shadows, the people who cannot protect themselves” and provide for public safety, including a sound transportation system. Fisher has been a strong supporter of U.S. troops serving overseas and is a member of the Maine Troop Greeters at the Bangor International Airport. He also has served as a Maine Community College System trustee, on the Harness Racing Promotion Board, BANSCO and Brewer Federal Credit Union boards and the Penobscot County Cooperative Extension Service board. He is currently on the Eastern Maine Development Corporation board and the Eastern Maine Community College advisory board. He and his wife Ellen have two children and one grandchild.

How long have you served on the Transportation Committee?
The first time I served I was on the committee for six years. This is my ninth year on the committee.

Do you serve on other committees?
Not at this time. In the past, I have been on Legal and Veteran’s Affairs.

Why did you want this committee assignment?
This is the best committee to serve on. It serves the needs of everybody in the state.

What is the one thing that you would like to see changed/enacted/achieved regarding Maine’s transportation system during your term?
Obviously, sustainable funding to meet the transportation needs of our state.

What will be the biggest challenge to achieving that?
Getting a consensus on what is the best way to achieve that goal.

How would you describe the state of transportation in Maine today?
The state is in desperate need of upgrading our bridges and roads.

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 safety aspect of it. I would like to see our roads and bridges in good shape so that the citizens of Maine can complete their daily travels in safe conditions. The biggest reason we need to improve our system is for safety reasons, followed by economic development.

Did you support LD 1790? If yes, what do you think are the best prospects or strategies for getting the bill funded? If no, why not?
Yes, I supported LD 1790. The most important thing we can do is to educate other members in terms of our needs, and the lack of authority to take care of those needs because of the funding difficulties.

Earlier this year, an OPEGA study was released that suggested the Highway Fund should pay between 17 and 34 percent of the State Police budget versus the 60 percent it is currently paying. Do you support having the General Fund pay a higher percentage of the State Police budget?

How many vehicles with wheels do you and your family own?
We have three cars, and one bicycle.

How do you get to Boston?
Most of the time I drive, but occasionally we have taken the train from Portland.

In your daily travels, what is the worst road you travel on? What’s the best?
There aren’t any terrible roads that I travel on a daily basis. Occasionally I will be Downeast or off the beaten path and there are plenty of bad roads. The best road is the interstate.

Do you have a favorite scenic route?
The road to Schoodic Point [Route 186].

Do you have a vision of what transportation in Maine will look like in 20 years?
I would hope that in 20 years, we would have caught up with our backlog of roads that need to be rebuilt and bridges that need to be upgraded. I would like to see better utilization of our freight rail facilities.

Representative Ann E. Peoples (D-Westbrook)
Ann Peoples worked for 13 years as a process technician at the S.D. Warren paper mill in Westbrook, six years in finance and investment and now works part-time for Pine Tree Networks. She’s lived in Westbrook for more than 30 years. Before running for a seat in the Maine Legislature, she served on the Westbrook City Council and several years on the city’s planning board. She grew up in a Navy family, and holds a bachelor of arts degree from the University of California. She supports efforts to bring more economic development and jobs to the state. She and her husband Patrick have five children and five grandchildren.

How long have you served on the Transportation Committee?
This is my first term.

Do you serve on other committees?
This is my only committee.

Why did you want this committee assignment?
I spent 12 years on the Metro board, with two years as president. As president, I worked with PACTS in the Portland Metro region. I have always had a strong interest in transportation issues.

What is the one thing that you would like to see changed/enacted/achieved regarding Maine’s transportation system during your term?
I would like to see sustainable funding for transportation infrastructure.

What will be the biggest challenge to achieving that?
The big question is: Where is the money going to come from? We know the answer to that one. What do we give up? Do we cut spending? Raise taxes? It has to come from somewhere.

How would you describe the state of transportation in Maine today?
In a word, dire.

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 would create an efficient, convenient public transportation system including buses, trains and jitneys.

Did you support LD 1790? If yes, what do you think are the best prospects or strategies for getting the bill funded? If no, why not?
Yes, I supported it in its original form and I support it now.

Earlier this year, an OPEGA study was released that suggested the Highway Fund should pay between 17 and 34 percent of the State Police budget versus the 60 percent it is currently paying. Do you support having the General Fund pay a higher percentage of the State Police budget?
Yes, I think that is probably the way it turns out in terms of fairness. What that percentage exactly is going to be, we just don’t know yet.

How many vehicles with wheels do you and your family own?
One car and two bicycles.

How do you get to Boston?
Either by train or bus.

In your daily travels, what is the worst road you travel on? What’s the best?
Route 231 from North Yarmouth to Pineland is the worst and the best is the turnpike.

Do you have a favorite scenic route?
Route 6 from Howland to Milo.

Do you have a vision of what transportation in Maine will look like in 20 years?
I think you should be able to get from any urban area to any spot in the state without taking a personal vehicle.

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